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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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John Flush   March 24th, 2010 10:12 am ET

Just ask yourself one simple question: How many teenagers own ice picks or know how to currently purchase one? It's easier for them to use baseball bats, chains, knives or even handguns, and if they were truly that serious with intent, nothing would have been said and simply would have acted on their compulsions. I view it more so as teen-age angst and immaturity than actual death-threats. It's no different than saying you'll gouge out someone's eyes with a rusty forklift. Come on people. Get real.

sauer kraut   March 24th, 2010 10:59 am ET

Some of the folks who comment here with the thought that free speech is an absolute right understand neither the real meaning of free speech nor the limitations thereto.

A person cannot legally falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater, nor can they legally threaten a person's life on the Internet. People who threaten physical harm upon another American via the Internet should at the very least face a charge of disorderly conduct. And it should proceed upwards from there.

Safety Guru   March 24th, 2010 11:11 am ET

Physically threatening to injure the student is probably one of the main reasons that the cyberbullies should be persecuted. They threatened bodily harm! Even if they were bluffing, it is still a serious and criminal matter that should be dealt with by the police.

john of Orange County   March 24th, 2010 11:12 am ET

Some people seem to think ( not sure why ) that because a word like the F word or the N word is used a lot, that it is OK...that it is just regular behavior. I'm sure the Klu Klux Klan would totally agree with that viewpoint. It's always the ones that are using these words that seem to think it's great...but if another word or action they didn't like, perhaps their ethnicity or where they came from or their relgion...they would be the first to kick and scream and get all worked up about it......

M.Knight   March 24th, 2010 12:05 pm ET

Many people have no one to turn to if the courts and police do nothing. Parents tend to take their childs side or not even care. Kids have enough pressure as it is. To think that it's part of growing up is ridiculous. Who would want their child to go through that. They were threats against him that could result in injury. They call that harassment if one was to say it face to face. Being in print does not diminish the crime. If parents don't care enough to discipline their cthe hild then they get what they get. Plant corn get corn I say. Thank god the parent took steps to protect their child and didn't take it into their own hands. Then it would have been "oh those poor children didn't deserve that" but of course they would have. Remember kids can be cruel and hurtful. 3 cheers for the parents that cared

Laurie   March 24th, 2010 12:07 pm ET

As a high school teacher, I can attest to the fact that cyberbullying has a large impact at our largely middle-class suburban school. However, the instances of verbal or physical abuse has decreased. It is difficult for teachers or administrators to stop the attacks via text messaging or social networking sites unless a student steps forward. Even when students do, they rarely will turn in the abusers for punishment.

Schools are being asked to take over more and more of the jobs that parents should do–instilling values, character, work ethic, and how to use technology in a manner that does more good than harm. Yet, when schools do step in, the comment from parents is mostly, "that can't be our son/daughter!" Parents, please, when you hand over that cell phone or allow that internet access, follow through on some basics like when it is appropriate to use them and how.

S. Walker   March 24th, 2010 12:29 pm ET

It is a shame when we as a country hide behind laws that need some revisions. Also we cover up our children mistakes and say they are not wrong. One day they will grow up and become adults. Maybe parents should think about that situation. But they don't and when the time comes they will still cover up their grown kids mistakes. Please wake up america GOD is giving us chance after chance. He too will become tired eventually.

Robert CT.   March 24th, 2010 12:37 pm ET

It's nice to know that some cyberbullies are caught and have to "face the music" on their own stupidity!! I have a friend who is being cyberbullied and threatened on his PC daily and the cops won't do anything! My friend is deaf so he goes to the chat rooms to talk to other deaf people. This guy is constantly harrassing and threating him. He seems to know about computers enough to change his profile all the time and managed to get my friends mothers' cell phone number. He has harrassed her on 1 occasion as of yet. Still, the police say they can't help. Is this person really UNTOUCHABLE!?!? Is there anything I could do or anyone I could contact to help with this situation? This kid lives in fear everyday thinking this person might really show up!!

Leslie Medrow   March 24th, 2010 12:54 pm ET

If someone threatened to kill my kid with an ice pick I would definitely press full charges.

Wayne   March 24th, 2010 12:58 pm ET

Alverant: When you say "Masnick and what "perfectly reasonable" alternative did the victim's family have? "

I say the same option they've always had. Shut off the computer and be mature enough to realize that kids have called each other names and said things like this for as long as humans could communicate. It's the incessant babying and whiny handwringing that makes people run to police and courts over verbal (or typed, which is even more rediculous) name-calling. Lets let the cops deal with real criminals and use the thousands expended in court costs to solve some real problems. Lets, as a society, just try not being so pathetic.

Andrew Wynne   March 24th, 2010 1:13 pm ET

Free speech does not including threatening remarks. Balancing free speech, reducing cyber-bullying, and having laws that are enforceable that cross not only state but national jurisdictions is a huge challenge of this century. Ethics needs to be taught in our public schools.

Melissa   March 24th, 2010 2:00 pm ET

Its about time. Bullying has got to stop.

kk   March 24th, 2010 2:23 pm ET

Let's see...

The cops (and likely the school) were useless – it figures.

Bravo for the guy who's suing, and I hope the twerps who were doing the bullying see LOTS of their (parents) money go bye-bye on the suit.

Maybe then:

1) Kids will understand that they can't bully.
2) Parents will understand that they can't let their kids bully.

SoulardGuy   March 24th, 2010 2:24 pm ET

We had a yound girl in St. Louis commit suicide over these same types of mean comments left on her facebook wall. If parents don't want to teach their kids right from wrong and monitor their computer activity, then they should be sued. Sometimes litigation is the only way to get adults to wake up and be responsible parents.

Dr. Eric Sikes XIV   March 24th, 2010 2:24 pm ET

I think that people shouldnt let what other people say effect to this point and he shouldnt be afraid of that there ice pick.


Scott   March 24th, 2010 2:24 pm ET

I'm trying to post opinions on this story, but every time I do, the CNN moderator either ignores it while it's awaiting moderation, or just deletes it outright. Comments like this, off-topic, tend to go through, but anything that has to do with the story is ignored.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I believe there's some sort of weird personal censoring going on; nothing else makes sense. Others post all around me while I'm rendered mute.
Is anyone else experiencing this treatment, or am I alone? Trolls need not reply.

Duncan   March 24th, 2010 2:29 pm ET

You can really tell from the postings who are parents and who are not.

Some thoughts..

The Columbine duo did not bully anyone before they went on to kill many people.

Had the police arrested the kids, hauled them away in handcuffs and threaten them with being locked up for a long time, this would have been over by now. The parent did something because the police refused to do anything.

Someone posted that they are flamed all the time and just deal with it. I have no doubt you would think differently if those people KNEW where you lived, were nearby and was posting that they were going to come kill you. Anonymous flaming or threat from people who have no clue where you live is not the same as this case.

Bullying and threats are a very serious issue. I still remember 30 years later of some days I was terrorfied of going to school because of some people.

Many kids kill themselves because of bullying related issues. Most get no help other than a few passing and meaningless words that everything will be fine.

Many parents of bullies do nothing to stop their kids. Most appear to be people who like some posters, think it is all part of growing up. If I ever found out that my children were bullying someone else and making their lives a misery, I would deal with it severely.

To a child, being bullied, either by parents, teachers or other kids is one of the WORST things that can happen to them (not counting the loss of a parent). Unless you have been terrorized, you have no clue what it feels like.

Roger Clemmens   March 24th, 2010 3:18 pm ET

The victim should have also responded in his web-site, "You're just jealous over the fact that, once you're a star, you can everything and- – – more."

Just talk to OJ and Michael Vick.

Violet Weed   March 24th, 2010 3:25 pm ET

Hate crime? Geez Looweez! typical teenage boy behavior.
It's called FREE SPEECH people. If the kid had a facebook site he could block the stupid kids who were calling him names.

If the kid can't take a little name calling, too bad for him. He won't do well in the world. When I was a kid, due to the fact that at age 11 I was in high school, I repeatedly got pummelled with fists and hit with stones by other high schoolers. I wasn't intimidated by it. I threw stones back at them. Now, 50 years later, I'm filthy rich, that's MY revenge. My money and business are now no longer on american soil but elsewhere, that's my revenge against the narcissistic pig, american hating 'president' and his puppet masters. OWN YOUR LIFE. LIVE IT COURAGEOUSLY and AUTHENTICALLY. Otherwise you get what you deserve.

The Truth   March 24th, 2010 3:47 pm ET

Charges should be filled for communicating threats, which are against the law. They had to know who wrote the comments to be able to sue so they can press criminal charges.

No one has the right to threaten bodily harm or death; unless they believe they are in imminent danger and using the threat in self defense as a warning to the threatening person to stop.

Carol   March 24th, 2010 4:06 pm ET

I know that it sounds like something that happens all the time and sounds like something that is not a big deal, but these kinds of things get out of control. Yes it should be the parents responsibility to discipline their kids, but most of the time that does not happen. We like in a society where kids are do not take responsiblity for their own actions. Parents tend to take up for their kids and not make then accountable. Any death threat these days should be taken serious. We have kids killing kids. We have kids bullying kids so extreme that some have taken their own lives. If it can be taken care of out of court then it should, but if you don't have willing participants to do that then you have to protect you kid and do what you have to do.

Chuck   March 24th, 2010 8:49 pm ET

If this kind of harassment was happening in the workplace, it would be deal with swiftly, and the offenders would no doubt be suspended and/or fired...why do we tell kids – the most vulnerable members of society – to just "deal with it"? This action is sending a mesage that you can't just do w/e you want and get away w/it only b/c you're a kid, and I hope it sets a precedent for future cases.

Kraze   March 25th, 2010 4:13 am ET

Hopefully people will start taking cyber bullying more seriously in the future.

Dee   March 26th, 2010 2:49 am ET

I think our society is losing a sense of decency. We see what goes on in Congress. People calling one another names and worse - and these are our leaders?! It's no coincidence that kids are doing the same. Letting their anger go every which way, even if it's cruel. It's sad for everyone.

Research Journal #2 Annotated Bibliography « Buggoffbuster's Blog   March 27th, 2010 4:04 pm ET

[...] [...]

Before you gossip, ask these three questions « Parental Wisdom® by Tina Nocera   March 27th, 2010 5:08 pm ET

[...] if you ask the family of Alexis Pilkington, the Suffolk County 17-year old girl that recently took her life.  Cyber bullies left cruel and [...]

MEGAN   March 28th, 2010 7:45 am ET

Parents should be punished just as harshly, if not harsher, than the children are, because if they had actually been parents and paid attention to what their children were doing, this type of thing would not happen. If parents would actually teach their kids right from wrong and not just expect other people and the television to raise their kids for them, this wouldn’t even be an issue.

As it is, I am glad this was taken care of, its about time.

Jay Singer   March 28th, 2010 9:49 pm ET

This is one of the most important rulings by any court in the nation about what cyber-bullying is and why those who threaten other's lives online must be held accountable. The school took no action. The police gave it little attention though they were fooled by the school into thinking that the threats of these students to kill their target were not hate crimes. The Harvard Westlake cyber-bullying case will go down in history as a milestone in terms of protecting our children. The parents who lived through this nightmare are to be praised for fighting for their child's protection.

carl colpaert   March 29th, 2010 2:04 am ET

posters who dismiss the parents' actions as overreaction didn't read the whole story: these weren't "kids," they were a group of 10 members of a losing football team, 18 years old, overtestosteroned and wanting to bash someone who was having success as an actor. it wasn't the victim's site, it was that of his publicist. the crimes took place on school property and on school computers. the police confirmed that interstate crimes had been committed but the school covered it up by saying that the matter would be dealt with internally. absolutely nothing was done – not even suspensions – and the students' records were c;eased for college. this same school is home of the "billionaires boys club" where a parent was murdered for his money, and home of the clawhammer attack last year by a student who bludgeoned a female classmate. in a nation where school shootings are commonplace and telegraphed in
advance by the Internet, why wouldn't the parents take action. the colleges who accepted these criminals weren't even warned. let their
future classmates beware.

Cyberbullying « GatorUptown’s Blog   April 9th, 2010 8:40 am ET

[...] 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 [...]

Cyber-Bullying   September 21st, 2010 7:08 am ET

How do you prevent the same thing correct. This will galvanize us to think and write will have. And any child born to the trend in h bullying is not goodCyber-Bullying

Deaf Village   October 6th, 2010 3:37 pm ET

[...] California there's a court case in the attempt to connect a cyberbullying case with that of a hate crime. Was it really a "hate crime" that happened? What about the case of Amy Cohen Efron? I [...]

Twila Branch   December 8th, 2011 4:28 am ET

Hello! Nice stuff, please do tell us when you post again something similar!

Robert the 4th   December 13th, 2011 2:02 pm ET

I believe that the parent did the right thing but the kid does need to learn to just shrug things off. and go forth with his future career choices.

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