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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 4: “Enclaves of Totalitarianism”

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“ENCLAVES OF TOTALITARIANISM”

In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are “persons” under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.

—Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)1

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