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This Week in Social Media Law: Do Cyberbullies Have First Amendment Rights?

Welcome to my weekly roundup of issues at the intersection of social media and the law. In this edition: cyberbullies claim First Amendment rights to freedom of speech (and lose), a company learns that the best defense against CAN-SPAM Act violations is a good contract, and the California Attorney General raises the bar for company privacy policies (for all of us).

But first, a reminder that the very technology that simplifies our lives – in ways not possible ten years ago – exposes us to a Pandora’s box of new risks. Barnes & Noble is just the beginning


Bullying is still bullying when it’s done outside of school:

Two high school honor students in Missouri have learned an important civics lesson: the First Amendment does not allow them to post derogatory racial and sexual comments about fellow students. The website wasn’t intended for public consumption, but word got out when a third student posted a racial slur of his own, leading to a significant disruption in school. The students were suspended for 180 days when the school found out about the website, and their parents filed a lawsuit to allow them to return. An appeals court ruled that the school’s discipline of the brothers was warranted, writes Jackie Wernz (law firm Franczek Radelet): 

“The court thus recognized that school administrators cannot sit idly by when off-campus, online speech of students disrupts the educational environment, and so some discipline has to be warranted in some situations.”

The lesson? For schools, disciplining students for off-campus activities is appropriate at times. For students? Cyberbullying will not be tolerated. (Franczek Radelet)

Wait – did that spam come from our account?

If you use a marketing company or vendor to send out email on your behalf, you might want to take a close look at your contract. Kathryn Ossian (Miller Canfield) reports on a recent court ruling that said a marketing company must pay the costs associated with a lawsuit against its client accused of violating the CAN-SPAM Act. Why? Because their contract included a clause that addressed that very situation. Chalk one up for the lawyers who drafted the contract… (Miller Canfield)

California Attorney General taking a direct approach to improving consumer privacy:

Does your company’s privacy policy meet the standards of the California Online Privacy Protection Act? It’s not a rhetorical question – the state’s Attorney General just sent a letter to 100 companies and mobile app developers giving them 30 days to comply with the law or face a lawsuit. Can she do that? Just ask Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Research-in-Motion, all of which agreed to help improve privacy protections for those who use mobile apps. (Ifrah Law) 

Join The Conversation

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Nov 3 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    I have a question, Lance. What about a swarm that comes from Reddit and spews hatred and threats on a brand's website? Even if it's directed at a person within the company?

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