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Protecting Free Speech Online

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - How do you write a law to punish cyber bullies without violating the First Amendment right to free speech? Not very easily.

A 15-year-old high school student in Albany, New York started a webpage in 2010 that had pictures of classmates, along with details of their supposed sexual practices and preferences.

The student was prosecuted under New York state's anti-cyber bullying law which defined the crime of cyber bullying as any communication including posting statements on the internet or through email, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit pictures, disseminating private, personal, false, or sexual information with the intent to harass, embarrass, annoy, intimidate, humiliate, or inflict significant emotional harm on another person. Which sounds like behavior you'd want to stop. But also the kind of behavior that is protected by the first amendment.

This law wasn't limited to kids and was written so broadly it could potentially criminalize a bad Yelp review, sending an angry communication to an adult, or even to a corporation.

This month, the law was struck down. The good news is that while legislators now must go back to the drawing board on the crime of cyber bullying, schools are still within their rights to punish it, as are you, parents, when you find your kids engaging in it.

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