(Raleigh News Observer) It will soon be illegal for a student to bully a teacher online in North Carolina, under an expansion of the state’s cyberbullying law that goes into effect Dec. 1 and may be the first of its kind in the country.
The School Violence Prevention Act of 2012 will make it a misdemeanor for students to post something online “with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee.” It builds on a similar law passed in 2009 that criminalized online bullying of a student or a student’s parent or guardian.
Legislators say the law is necessary to keep up with the rise of students on social media.
“On the Internet, if it’s in print, a lot of times people accept it as the truth,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Union County. “Certainly if you put something in print that could damage the reputation and character of a teacher then there should be some sort of penalty.”
But critics say that what constitutes cyberbullying isn’t clear in the law and that fear of punishment could stifle free speech. State law has never defined the word “intimidate,” said Sarah Preston, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina policy director.
“Without definitions of ‘torment’ or ‘intimidate,’ it’s not clear what online activity will violate the law,” Preston said. “It does invite arbitrary enforcement because there’s no clear legal standard.”
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