New Law Criminalizing Online Student Speech Takes Effect Dec. 1
ACLU-NC Says the First-in-the-Nation Law is Misguided and Chills Free Speech; Group Calls on Students Charged Under the Law to Contact ACLU-NC Office
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RALEIGH - A new state law, the 2012 School Violence Prevention Act, that will be the first in the nation to impose criminal sanctions on public school students who use computers with the "intent to intimidate or torment" school employees will go into effect Dec. 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina opposes the law because it is too broad, threatens to chill students' free speech, sets a bad precedent by telling students it's wrong to criticize government officials, and could saddle students as young as 16 with up to 60 days in jail or a $1,000 fine for a wide range of acts that do not merit a criminal punishment. The law would even criminalize true statements by prohibiting online statements "whether true or false, (emphasis added) intending to immediately provoke, and that is likely to provoke, any third party to stalk or harass a school employee."
The ACLU-NC is urging any student who is charged under this new law to contact its office.
"This law is so vague that it could easily result in a student being arrested simply for posting something on the Internet that a school official finds offensive," said ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston. "Young people should not be taught that they will be punished for telling the truth, speaking freely, or questioning authority - yet that is exactly what could happen under this law. If it is okay to criminalize students who criticize teachers online, what is to stop the government from making it illegal for any one of us to criticize some other government official, whether the comments are made online or not? We urge any student charged under this misguided law to contact our office immediately."
A factsheet with additional information about the new law can be found at acluofnc.org.
The ACLU of North Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the guarantees of individual liberty found in the United States and North Carolina Constitutions and related federal and state civil rights laws. With more than 12,000 members and supporters throughout the state and an office located in Raleigh, the organization achieves its mission through advocacy, public education, community outreach, and when necessary, litigation.