NC cyberbullying law aim to protect kids struck down by court

North Carolina Capitol (WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina’s cyberbullying law designed to protect children from harassing online posts has been found unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday the 2009 law that made posting on the Internet information designed to “intimidate or torment” a minor a misdemeanor violates the First Amendment by restricting speech.

The law was signed by Gov. Bev Perdue and passed both houses easily, clearing the Senate 39-2 and the House 112-4. But the bill was opposed at the time by the ACLU, which said the bill should have been written more narrowly.

Justice Robin Hudson wrote for her colleagues that protecting children from the harms of online bullying is laudable but the law prohibits a wide range of online speech and doesn’t require victims to show they suffered injury.

The ruling involved an Alamance County student charged with the crime in 2012 and later convicted. Friday’s ruling reversed a Court of Appeals ruling and overturned the student’s conviction.

The case dates back to Feb. 9, 2012, when Southern Alamance High School student Robert Bishop was arrested and charged with cyberbullying another student.

The court said the law “is not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve the State’s interest in protecting children from the harms resulting from online bullying. Accordingly, we conclude that [the law] violates the First Amendment.”

The court ruled that the law was not precisely written. For example, the ruling said, “At the outset, it is apparent that the statute contains no requirement that the subject of an online posting suffer injury as a result, or even that he or she become aware of such a posting.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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