Court Strikes Albany Cyberbullying Law

The state's highest court has struck down an Albany County law against cyberbullying by a vote of 5 to 2. The Court of Appeals ruled the law, which makes cyberbullying minors a misdemeanor, violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

The case centered on a high school student who created a Facebook page, where he anonymously posted vulgarities about classmates. He posted about their sexual partners and practices and other offensive content. The student was later convicted under the cyberbullying law.

The court found the law is overly broad. "The language of the local law embraces a wide array of applications that prohibit types of protected speech far beyond the cyberbullying of children," the ruling says. 

The Albany law, adopted in 2010, outlaws "any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person."

The judges refused to sever the three parts of the law that could possibly withstand the free speech challenge: sexually explicit photographs, private or personal sexual information and false sexual information. They said it was not their job to rewrite legislation.

Monroe County's cyberbullying law, enacted in 2012, has very similar language. A county spokesman has not returned an email seeking comment about the future of the local law. It's not clear if anyone has been charged in Monroe County under its cyberbullying law.

Attorney Peter Gregory said Monroe County's law would have to be separately challenged by someone charged under the statute. But he said prosecutors may hesitate to charge anyone, given the Albany ruling. As for repealing the law, Gregory said that's not likely, because many out-of-date or non-enforceable laws remain on the books.

On Twitter, attorney Marty McCarthy said the county may be able to rewrite the law to abide by the ruling. "County can amend to narrow focus." 

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