A few years ago, a 15 year-old student at Harvard-Westlake High School create a website to help launch his acting and singing career. Other students, alleging offended by what they perceived as an “I am better than you” attitude and the “blatant bragging and self promotion” of the page, posted comments on the page such as, “Faggot, I’m going to kill you” and “If I ever see you I‘m . . . going to pound your head in with an ice pick.”
These exchanges have since formed the basis of a legal debate over cyberpulling, hate speech online, and First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
The father of the young man whose website hosted these exchanges, concerned that his son was being threatened with violence, shut down the site and contacted police about the posted comments. The local police department looked into the matter, but ultimately decided there was nothing for them to do about it.
The boy’s father then sued six of the online posters and their parents. And a couple of weeks ago, an appeals court in California ruled that the so-called “cyberbullies” were not protected by First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, and that they can be charged with hate crimes for their posts. (Details of the case can be read by clicking here)
So here’s the question… At what point does a fairly commonplace activity like children saying childish things (including hateful statements and threats of violence) cross the line from typical “playground posturing” and become a criminal offense?
Should behavior like this be written off as the stupid things that kids say and do? Or should it be viewed as a first step on the way to actual violence, and be treated as such? I’ll be honest, I’m not convinced either way… Share your thoughts below!