The United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech. Article 1 of the Indiana Constitution contains similar provisions. "Political speech" is speech that is amongst the most protected. That is speech meant solely for expression of political belief. When a law is challenged on the grounds that it infringes the First Amendment's protections of free speech, and the defendant(s) claim the speech is political, the court must subject the ordinance or law to the strict scrutiny test. The State must establish that it has a compelling interest to advance the ordinance or law.
In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court held that "fighting words"---"Inflammatory speech ...[that] might incite a violent response"---are not protected by the First Amendment. Similarly, State and Federal courts have upheld causes of action for defamation---libel and slander---on the grounds that such speech advances no genuine interest plus it harms through its falseness.
Cyber bullying, it can be argued, in many cases falls within these categories of unprotected speech. Then again, where is the line across which a person crosses? Threat of a specific illegal act against a specific person would seem to fall outside First Amendment protections.
Governmental regulation of speech, through laws or ordinances that ban or punish certain forms of speech, are subject to the First Amendment. On the other hand, there is no guarantee of free speech on private property. One person, for example, does not have the right to stand in the living room of another person and expound on that first person's views on any subject. If the person does not want such speech expressed in her or his home, then the speaker legally may be forced to leave.
That is one dilemma in regard to the internet. At what point is the internet "public" and where is it "private"? When you check off the box and agree to the terms of various social networks, you have just agreed to the terms of a licensing agreement. That, again generally, means you have entered the private sphere. That, some argue, is similar to entry into another person's home or business. Where, on the internet, is the purely public sphere? Where is the place analogous to the public square in which a person can place a "soap box" and speak about whatever topic that person wishes without interference from others?
Political speech is amongst the most protected form of expression under our Federal, and State, Constitutions. Even that speech has been restricted, however, particularly during times of war. In Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S.Ct. 247, 63 L.Ed. 470 (1919), judgments of conviction were affirmed of individuals who passed out literature against World War I. It could be argued the speech was effective. The test laid down in that case was the "clear and present danger" test. One could argue the "clear and present danger" consisted of the speech having been effective.
Limits on the internet pose a threat even more pervasive, as the internet is in our homes.
On The Show today we shall discuss cyber bullying and related topics with Bruce Canal and Suan Canal, owners of Social Net Watcher, and Sergeant John Akers, of Indianapolis Public Schools. We shall stream "live" from Lil Peanut Productions, 735 North Lynhurst, Suite B, from 11 am to 1 pm.