New crime: Insulting a minor

In response to the suicide of a 17-year-old girl who’d been taunted on social networking sites, a New York county would make it a crime to repeatedly insult a minor, writes lawblogger Eugene Volokh. Bad idea.

Under Suffolk County Resolution No. 1390–2010, cyber-bullying includes: “taunting; threatening; intimidating; insulting; tormenting; humiliating; disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs, either actual or modified, of a minor; disseminating the private, personal or sexual information, either factual or false, of a minor; or sending hate mail….”

Volokh, a UCLA law professor, comes up with some examples:

1. You post several items on your Web site about how some juvenile criminal is an awful person. You’re guilty of “repeatedly committing acts of abusive behavior” — namely, “insulting” ” — “against a minor” by “posting statements on the internet.”

2. A 17-year-old finds that her 17-year-old boyfriend is cheating on her. She sends him two e-mails calling him a “lying, cheating scum.” She’s guilty of repeatedly “insulting” the other person, and perhaps “sending hate mail.”

3. A 17-year-old e-mails her friend several times about her having had sex with a 17-year-old boy. She is guilty of “disseminating the private … sexual information” (even though “factual”) “of a minor” — the fact that the boy had had sex with her.

The suicide of Alexis Pilkington doesn’t justify “turning a wide range of normal — and, in some instances, constitutionally protected — behavior into a crime,” argues Volokh. The law must be written much more precisely and narrowly.

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  1. Just when you think you’ve lost your capacity for surprise…

  2. They’re using her suicide to restrict freedom of speech, when she was bullied and taunted IRL (in real life) as well.

  3. Well, this should ease Sarah Palin’s mind. Considering that Andrew Sullivan decided her kids were fair game, I’d say she’s got a helluva case.

  4. This is just stupid. Oops, will that get me in trouble?


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