The New York State Senate just approved a bill aiming to curb the scourge of cyberbullying. Sounds great, but enforcement might be a bit difficult. See, while the New York State Senate, in its infinite wisdom, voted unanimously to pass Senate Bill S2318A, they neglected to actually say what “cyberbullying” is.
The actual text of the bill is mind-boggling in its level of vagueness and surprisingly punitive considering its unnervingly broad scope of coverage. In short, as Tech Dirt points out, it doesn’t actually define what cyberbullying is, only who should be protected by the new anti-cyberbullying amendment.
Minors are protected under the new bill, and, if convicted, cyberbullies will be found guilty of “an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by a period of imprisonment not to exceed one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.” Damn. Here’s the bill amendment that both neglects to define cyberbullying, while also dictating the consequences of engaging in cyberbullying:
S 12-A. CYBERBULLYING. 1. AS USED IN THIS SECTION, THE FOLLOWING TERMS SHALL HAVE THE FOLLOWING MEANINGS:
A. MINOR SHALL MEAN ANY NATURAL PERSON OR INDIVIDUAL UNDER THE AGE OF EIGHTEEN.
B. PERSON SHALL MEAN ANY NATURAL PERSON OR INDIVIDUAL.
2. ANY PERSON WHO KNOWINGLY ENGAGES IN A REPEATED COURSE OF CYBERBULLYING OF A MINOR SHALL BE GUILTY OF AN UNCLASSIFIED MISDEMEANOR PUNISHABLE BY A FINE OF NOT MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS, OR BY A PERIOD OF IMPRISONMENT NOT TO EXCEED ONE YEAR, OR BY BOTH SUCH FINE AND IMPRISONMENT.
S 3. This act shall take effect immediately.
The bill was sponsored by Republican New York State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader for Economic Development Michael H. Ranzenhofer. Perhaps Ranzenhofer was unaware that, in July of 2014, the New York State Supreme Court struck down a previous cyberbullying law due to its vague nature and for violating the First Amendment.
The ruling even included examples of why the 2014 law was unconstitutional: “In considering the facial implications, it appears that the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult.”
To be fair, defining what constitutes cyberbullying is more difficult than one might realize, but excluding the definition itself while still implementing punitive measures is simply a recipe for disaster—including convictions that could set a precedent that transforms how people interact with one another online.
Of course. I expect nothing less from Ranzenhofer who, in 2011, voted against the Marriage Equality Act (which passed). In February 2014, Ranzenhofer was doing the important work of of sponsoring Senate Bill S6695, which named yogurt as New York’s official state snack, “effective immediately.” Great job, senator.