NC Supreme Court strikes down cyberbullying law

Posted June 10, 2016

— North Carolina's law banning cybyerbullying unconstitutionally restricts free speech, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The 2009 law "is not narrowly tailored to the State’s asserted interest in protecting children from the harms of online bullying," Justice Robin Hudson wrote in a unanimous opinion.

Under the now defunct law, people could be charged with cyberbullying if they posted a real or doctored photo of a minor "with the intent to intimidate or torment a minor or the minor's parent." The law also prohibits, planting "any statement, whether true or false, tending to provoke or that actually provokes any third party to stalk or harass a minor" and posting "private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor."

The case before the court, North Carolina v. Robert Bishop, involved a pair of Southern Alamance High School students. According to a summary included in the ruling, Bishop was among a number of students posting negative things about classmate Dillon Price online.

"Many of the messages that ensued included comments and accusations about each other’s sexual proclivities, along with name-calling and insults," the summary says.

Price's mother called the police, kicking off an investigation. Bishop was eventually convicted, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld that conviction, saying that the law regulated bullying conduct, which would be allowed, but did not regulate speech.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying the case was clearly about speech. The law could have stood if it passed a "strict scrutiny test," a legal term used to describe a law that "serves a compelling governmental interest, and that the law is narrowly tailored to effectuate that interest."

North Carolina's cyberbullying law fails that test, Hudson wrote for the court, because someone can commit the crime without the alleged victim suffering harm or even being aware of the posting.

"In addition, as to both the motive of the poster and the content of the posting, the statute sweeps far beyond the State’s legitimate interest in protecting the psychological health of minors," Hudson wrote.

Terms in the law, the ruling says, are poorly defined, and the law did not require the state to prove a perpetrator's motive.

The law, the ruling says, could "criminalize behavior that a robust contemporary society must tolerate because of the First Amendment, even if we do not approve of the behavior."


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  • Ken Ackerman Jun 12, 2016
    user avatar

    I don't care about the state's law one way or the other, what I do care about is the level of intolerance and ignorance people are posting here about those being bullied.

    It's clear to me that many here have absolutely NO idea what being bullied is like.
    First, if your children are being bullied you as parents will be the absolute last to learn of it.

    There are three groups of kids, those that get bullied, those that do the bullying, and all the rest in the middle. Those in the middle don't want to become bullied so they do not take action. Those that are being bullied essentially have no where to turn because of attitudes like "sticks and stones blah, blah, blah". Other parts of society, like the posters here consider them cowards, etc. because they don't beat up the bullies.

    Before you start passing judgement on people you don't know and a subject you obviously know nothing about watch the movie, "A Girl Like Her", you can find it on Netflix.

  • Judy Loftin Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    We learned that sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you. It was good enough for us. But then, we didn't have parents that stuck their nose in every argument we had. We were told to handle it ourselves.

  • Sam Adams Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    Seriously what is wrong with our society? Our schools are essentially preping our kids to be victims. Apparently in their eyes standing up to bullies is just as bad as being a bully. Its insane. I have always taught my boys that they should always stand up for themselves or stand up for someone who is too weak to stand up for themselves. I dont want them starting fights, but I do expect them to finish them.

    Cyberbulling is BS. Parents today are lazy and often take the lazy route by putting an ipad or smartphone in front of their kids to pass the time. My kids know that social media is not real life and they do not give any weight to it. My kids are not on FB or any other platform because they are living in real life. They think it pathetic to see how their friends lives are ruled by the tiny devices they hold.

    Raise your kids to know whats important in life and cyberbulling will be an issue, period.

  • Matt Nickeson Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Actually, it's called the rule of law. Did you read the article or Suoreme Court ruling or is your response based upon feelings? The law, as written, was overly broad and, thereby, potentially criminalized non-criminal behavior. In some cases the law make illegal an act with no victim. How can that be a crime? The law will now be amended or replaced with a more appropriately defined and delimited version which will better serve the interests of justice. This is how the system works and it is working as it should.

  • Kristin Byrne Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    The problem with cyber bullying is that there is no one to confront. These cowards sit behind a computer screen and anonymously harass people. You can't confront someone when you don't know who they are.

  • Dan Demaionewton Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    The idea that it's okay for anyone, whether a young person or adult, has a right to cyberbully another is flat out wrong. I encourage you all to watch Ryan's story and make up your mind for yourself: https://youtu.be/daSdsh5ssdA

  • Dan Demaionewton Jun 11, 2016
    user avatar

    It breaks my heart for every student and parent who will now be open to cyberbullying. I feel this is another example of North Carolina moving in the wrong direction.

  • Kim Plucker Jun 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Good grief I did not know about this. Oh yeah, lets pass some more laws to imprison your children rather than taking responsibility to teach them to stand up to bullies and protect their peers. SMDH