Albany County’s Cyber-bullying Law: Is it Constitutional?

Written by Alaina Bergerstock, Albany Government Law Review Member

 

Introduction

The days of traditional bullying on the playground or school bus have transformed into a more technological type of bullying called “cyber-bullying,” as discussed in a recent article by Michael Telfer.[1] Cyber-bullying has increasingly become an extremely serious problem as technology develops.   Cyber-bullying not only includes written words in chat rooms and instant messages, but it also includes impersonation through the creation of fake Facebook and MySpace pages.[2] In addition, “happy slapping” has developed as a new means of cyber-bullying.[3] “Happy slapping” involves a victim being physically attacked while the attacker’s accomplice stands by and videotapes or takes pictures of the attack, and the video and/or pictures are then posted on an online site, such as YouTube.[4] Another means of cyber-bullying is where an individual takes pictures of the victim in the locker room, bathroom, or other location, and then posts those pictures online.  Online polls, in which readers are asked to vote on humiliating questions about the victim, are also used to cyber-bully.[5]

The problem with cyber-bullying in comparison to face-to-face bullying is that bullying that occurs via electronic means is capable of reaching a lot of people at once[6] Cyber-bullying also has the potential of being an around the clock problem since not only does it happen during school hours, but it also takes place off of school grounds.[7] The use of internet and cell phones allow bullies to torment their victims any time they want.  Young people are using the internet and text messaging as a means of bullying because it is easier for them to be mean when they don’t have to face their victims.  The internet allows an individual to make embarrassing and derogatory comments and remain anonymous.  However, the truth is that cyber-bullying hurts just as much, if not more, than if a victim is being bullied in person.[8] The importance of peer approval to children is high and thus, cyber-bullying can be extremely destructive to those who fall victim to it.[9] Unfortunately, the prevalence of cyber-bulling is increasing; “[t]he U.S. Justice Department recently reported that cyber-bullying is at an all-time high, with 43 percent of teens saying they have been victims.”[10] Continue reading “Albany County’s Cyber-bullying Law: Is it Constitutional?”

ACLU Sues School in Online Photo Controversy: Female Students Punished for Racy MySpace Pictures

Brittany Grome, Government Law Review Member

Background

           In Indianapolis, Indiana, two sophomore girls at Churubusco High School were punished by the school district for posting sexually suggestive photos on their MySpace pages.[1] According to the complaint, the girls dressed in lingerie and pretended to lick “penis-shaped” lollipops.[2] These photos were taken during their summer break at a sleepover party.[3] The school district banned the girls from participating in extracurricular activities for one full year, which was later reduced to a quarter of the volleyball season.[4] As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit on the girls’ behalf, arguing that the Churubusco School District violated the girls’ constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech.[5] The ACLU also argues that the school district went too far and publicly embarrassed the girls when it forced them to apologize to an all male coaching board and mandated that the girls undergo counseling.[6]

           Currently, there is no set standard of how school districts should address student online activity that occurs outside of school. This is a growing controversy and teens that have done similar things in the past have faced prosecution. In March of this year, a fourteen year old New Jersey student was arrested on child pornography charges when she posted nude pictures of herself on her MySpace profile.[7] Other students have been expelled or lost scholarships.[8] Similarly, in 2006, a seventeen year old student in Pennsylvania was suspended for creating a parody website that made fun of his principal on MySpace.[9] The district court ruled that his off campus actions did not “disrupt school operations.”[10]

             “From the standpoint of young people, there’s no real distinction between online life and offline life . . . it’s just life.”[11] The decision to punish these sophomore girls is drawing a lot of attention and raising many questions. Should students be punished for online activities that take place outside of school? Did the pictures placed online have a substantial effect on school activities?  Was the school district justified in its actions and does it have a right to regulate student out of school online behavior? Does a student shed her First Amendment right to free speech simply because she participates in an extracurricular activity, such as a sports team?

Continue reading “ACLU Sues School in Online Photo Controversy: Female Students Punished for Racy MySpace Pictures”