Court: Cyber-bullying threats are not protected speech

A California appeals court ruled this week that threatening posts made by readers of a web site are not protected free speech, allowing a case charging the posters with hate crimes and defamation to proceed, Wired reports. The case raises fundamental questions about cyber bullying and the line between online speech and hate crimes. The case involves a teen identified as “D.C.” in court documents, who launched a web site in 2005 when he was 15 to promote his pursuit of an acting and singing career. Fellow students at his private high school, Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, posted derogatory comments on his site, mocking his perceived sexual orientation and making hostile statements that threatened him with bodily harm, such as “Faggot, I’m going to kill you,” and “I want to rip out your fucking heart and feed it to you.” The site was taken down, and the boy’s father contacted school authorities and the local police, who ultimately determined that the postings did not meet the criteria for criminal prosecution and were protected speech. The father then sued six students and their parents, accusing them of hate crimes, defamation—for falsely calling his son a homosexual—and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The school’s board of directors and three employees also were sued. Judges Robert Mallano and Jeffrey Johnson, writing for the majority, said the messages revealed a harmful intent and were not protected speech…

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