The latest ruling in the US state of Minnesota suggests that a high school student who went on Twitter to insult another is protected under the First Amendment.
On Twitter, the teenager used homophobic language against a classmate, suggesting that he kill himself by drinking bleach and mocked his autism, according to court documents.
“Of course, First Amendment protections are not limitless. There is a point where First Amendment protections end and government regulation of speech or expressive conduct becomes permissible,” Justice Paul Thissen wrote in his 41-page majority opinion.
The case follows efforts by the federal government and U.S. states to prevent cyberbullying, which apparently has been linked to depression in youths.
The ruling, along with a number of other decisions over the years, has put hurdles in the way of cyber-bullying charges being brought against alleged offenders.
The North Carolina Supreme Court in 2016 overturned the cyber-bullying conviction of a man stemming from his online activity as a high school student. The court ruled the charges violated the First Amendment.
“We fully acknowledge that bullying, stalking and other forms of harassment are serious problems in our society,” Thissen wrote.
The ruling did not deal with a Minnesota law which requires schools to prevent cyberbullying, which was not at issue in the case.
In his ruling, Judge Thissen fully acknowledged that stalking, bullying, and harassment are serious societal problems, including when they happen online.
However, the case before him involved a minor A.J.B., who was already “prosecuted in juvenile court in Scott County and convicted of the criminal charges of stalking and harassment through electronic communication.”
But then, a lower court was given a chance to reconsider whether to separately convict A.J.N for harassment – after the Minnesota Supreme Court said the statute on stalking through electronic communication used to convict him was “so broad that it could prohibit and chill protected expression”- as it overturned the defendant’s stalking conviction.
The high school student in 2016 “reacted to fellow student M.B.’s Twitter posts about girls by unleashing a series of 40 tweets against him.”
“Essentially all of the tweets posted by A.J.B. and directed at M.B. contained cruel and egregious insults,” Thissen wrote in the opinion.