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March 22, 2010

Students to face cyberbullying charges

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

A California appeals court has ruled that several Los Angeles high school students who made derogatory and threatening comments on a fellow student's Web site can be charged with hate crimes and defamation.

According to court documents (pdf), a 15-year-old Harvard-Westlake High School Student created a Web site in 2005 to promote his singing and acting career. When fellow students discovered the site, they were reportedly "offended and put off by its ‘I am better than you’ attitude and its blatant bragging and self promotion."

Several of the students began posting threatening remarks 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."

In response to the comments, the site was taken down and the victim's father contacted the police. However, a police investigation determined that the remarks did not warrant criminal prosecution. The father then sued six of the posters and their parents, accusing them of hate crimes and defamation.

The appellate court determined that the cyberbullying was not free speech and the students were not protected by First Amendment rights.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt disagrees with the suit:

Now, there's no doubt at all that the comments were over the line and incredibly mean. However, it looks like there was a perfectly reasonable process outside of the courts to handle this. Apparently, the father of one kid who made some of the worst comments made his son apologize, grounded him and took away his internet access.

According to Wired, an attorney for the defendants has said he will appeal the decision to California's supreme court.

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