Crime to Insult a Minor Twice Online With Intent to Annoy?

That’s what would happen under a Monroe County (New York) bill, proposed by County Executive Maggie Brooks, County Legislature Vice President Michael G. Barker, and County Legislator Carmen F. Gumina. The bill reads, in relevant part (paragraph break added):

[It shall be unlawful for a person] to … with intent to harass [or] annoy [a minor] … engag[e] in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit[] acts of abusive behavior over a period of time by [electronic] communication.

Acts of abusive behavior shall include, but not [be] limited to: taunting; … insulting; tormenting; humiliating; disseminating sexually explicit photographs, either actual or modified, of a minor; disseminating the private, personal or sexual information, either factual or false, of a minor without lawful authority.

So the following would all be criminals, punishable by up to a year in jail:

  1. Someone who sends two e-mails over several days to friends — or posts two items on a Facebook page or a blog post — insulting a high school classmate, with the intent to annoy him.
  2. Someone who twice (over several days) e-mails or posts something condemning her ex-boyfriend for cheating on her (since that would be revealing “sexual information” “of a minor”), with the intent to annoy the ex-boyfriend.
  3. Someone who writes two newspaper articles or blog posts (over several days) insultingly condemning a juvenile criminal, with the intent to annoy him (perhaps because he wants the criminal to feel bad about the crimes).
  4. Someone who twice (over several days) e-mails or posts something mocking a candidate for high school student government, with the intent to annoy the candidate.
  5. Someone who twice (over several days) e-mails or posts something taunting a rival high school’s sports team, with the intent to annoy the players on that team.

Note that I say “twice” because the proposed law simply calls for “repeatedly committing acts over a period of time,” and “repeatedly” both seems to just mean “more than once,” and has been so interpreted in a closely related telephone harassment statute, see People v. Calderon (N.Y. trial ct. 1997). Note also that the proposal would cover threatening speech, which would be constitutional but likely already duplicative of state laws; I don’t quote that material because my objection is to the separate prohibitions on speech that’s said with the intent to “annoy” rather than threaten.

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