Silverglate and Schwartz on Arizona’s “Anti-Bullying” Legislation

By April 6, 2012

FIRE Board Chairman Harvey Silverglate and I have posted an article on Forbes.com pointing out the absurdity of the Arizona Legislature’s recently passed anti-bullying initiative. The law, which criminalizes any electronic or digital communications that "annoy or offend," somehow has garnered bipartisan support. In other words, all pundits, bloggers, commentators, and writers should beware. Indeed, anyone who sends any email or text message should feel threatened. 

We place the rather silly Arizona bill into a larger context, arguing that the effort is part of a decades-long trend, accelerated in recent years, toward renaming protected speech as something else, and then outlawing it. We also point out that we see this sort of thing on college campuses all the time: as part of absurdly broad definitions of sexual harassment and in more recent initiatives also dedicated to bullying prevention. We write

[P]erhaps the most under-discussed aspect of these bullying laws is that statutes already exist to protect against more serious offenses or threats to safety. As we argued in this space last year, there are already plenty of laws on the books to protect students; if a student follows another home from school and beats him up, he might be found guilty of assault, or stalking. When Dharun Ravi spied on Tyler Clementi, he broke invasion of privacy laws. Calling it bullying is redundant.  Anti-bullying legislation will only have the effect of harming the legitimate rights of young individuals to express themselves, get into arguments and, yes, occasionally insult each other, and will lead to the massive proliferation of costly student life bureaucracies that will have to be hired to enforce this nonsense.

Check out the full article here