The anonymity of the internet makes people say stupid things, but it seems like at least one court isn't willing to accept "It's just a joooooooke!" as an excuse. Just because someone's online doesn't make a death threat
A state appeals court says a 15-year-old boy whose Web site was flooded with anti-gay slurs and threats can sue a schoolmate who admitted posting a menacing message but described it as a joke.
In a 2-1 ruling Monday, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said the violent language of the message - threatening to "rip out your ... heart and feed it to you" and to "pound your head in with an ice pick" - conveyed a harmful intent that is not protected by the right of free speech.
Anyone who's been around the internet for around a month's seen how crazy some people act because they assume that there are no consequences to their actions, often going far enough to suggest that people should die. Cyber bullying does affect people, and, as an Iowa State University study showed last week, it disproportionately affects LGBT people just like bullying in real life.
There's really only so much crazy that the internet was built to take. People sometimes just don't get how far they're going because they figure they'll never get caught, or that somehow it's OK to tell people you want to see them dead, because the internet isn't real.
The defendant got sued for making the comments online, and tried to have the suit dismissed saying his online comments were free speech.
The plaintiff, identified only as D.C., set up a Web site in 2005 to promote an entertainment career after recording an album and starring in a film. Believing - wrongly, the court said - that he was gay, some fellow students at a Los Angeles high school posted comments that mocked him, feigned sexual interest or threatened violence.
The boy's father said he withdrew D.C. from the school, at the suggestion of Los Angeles police, and moved the family to an undisclosed spot in Northern California. D.C. sued six students and their parents, claiming hate crimes, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The ruling involved a claim by one defendant, a 16-year-old identified as R.R., that the suit interfered with his freedom of speech. In a court filing, R.R. said he didn't know D.C. personally but was offended by the Web site's self-promotional tone and "decided to add my own message to the Internet graffiti contest," posing as a parent who was so offended by D.C.'s singing that he wanted to kill him.
While I generally lean towards free speech fundamentalism. Free speech zones, suing the WBC because they upset military funerals, hate speech laws I read about from other countries... I could go on, but my first instinct when I hear about restrictions on free speech is that a group of people is, either because of insecurity or entitlement, trying to force other people to fall in line with their point of view. It's disrespectful, basically seeing a human population as sheep and arguing over who gets to be the shepherd.
But the violence stuff? That's not about trying to persuade people to a particular point of view, it's about trying to make people shut up and let others steam roll over them.
And I think that most people who get into the violent rhetoric online wouldn't ever do that in real life, that they'd tone it back because they'd have to face the person they're talking to. I suppose the other way to look at this case is that everyone else needs to catch up on the fact that violent rhetoric on the internet doesn't mean anything and just stop worrying about it so much, but it seems like an utter failure on our part to just give up on the idea that people can be held to such a low standard of decency even when they're alone in their home.
Or maybe these people wouldn't be decent in real life and, instead of just talking, they'd be hitting. Who knows.
Especially with their legal defense being the uber-douchy excuse "I was just joking." (That's so easy to say after the fact, isn't it?) That's a bully's favorite, isn't it? Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself! Oh, look, he's crying like a fag. Get a sense of humor, pussy.
Fortunately, our little corner of the internet doesn't get much in terms of violent threats (I only remember one, and that lasted for day, mostly because the people have to search to find this website. If we were larger and got more attention from conservative media, I'd expect to see more what with all the confident, free-thinking queer people speaking their minds.