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Sympathy for the Cyberbully

How the Crusade to Censor Hostile and Offensive Online Speech Abuses Freedom of Expression

Series:

Arthur S. Hayes

In the first systematic account of judicial rulings striking down cyberbullying laws in the United States and Canada, Sympathy for the Cyberbully offers an unapologetic defense of online acid-tongued disparagers and youthful and adult sexters. In the first decade of the 21st century, legitimate concerns about the harmful effects of cyberbullying degenerated into a moral panic. The most troubling aspect of the panic has been a spate of censorship—the enactment of laws which breach long-standing constitutional principles, by authorizing police to arrest and juries to convict, and schools to suspend, individuals for engaging in online expression that would be constitutionally protected had it been communicated offline. These hastily drawn statutes victimize harsh critics of elected officials, scholars, school officials and faculty, distributors of constitutionally protected pornography, adolescents "talking smack," and teens who engage in the consensual exchange of nude images, even in states where teens of a certain age enjoy the right to engage in sexual relations. The victims’ stories are told here.

Sympathy for the Cyberbully is suitable for undergraduate, graduate and law school courses in media law, First Amendment law and free expression.

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Chapter 3: The Unnecessary and Unjust Creation of Virtual Juvenile Delinquents

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THE UNNECESSARY AND UNJUST CREATION OF VIRTUAL JUVENILE DELINQUENTS

When Robert Bishop was a high school student, his words made Dillion Price cry, beat himself in the head and throw things.1 He “slammed” (teased him harshly) Price on Facebook and encouraged schoolmates to do likewise. For this, they said Bishop was a criminal.

Bishop was accused of cyberbulling when he was called into the assistant principal’s office of Southern Alamance High School in Graham, North Carolina.2 Soon after, in February 2012, the police said he was a criminal when they arrested him.3

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