On Dec. 1, it will be illegal for North Carolina students to bully teachers online. The new law prohibits postings something 'with intent to intimidate or torment' teachers and school employees. The law forbids fake profiles, manipulated photos and signing up teachers for porn sites or junk mail. / Joerg Koch, AP
A new North Carolina law that takes effect Dec. 1 prohibits students from bullying teachers on social media, expanding protections for youths and parents passed three years ago.
But as state media point out, the law, apparently the first of its kind, has raised free-speech concerns because of what critics contend are undefined terms.
The School Violence Prevention Act of 2012 makes it illegal for students to post something "with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee." Banned postings include manipulated photos of teachers, creating fake profiles or websites, posting personal or sexual information, or signing up a teacher for pornographic sites or junk mail, the Raleigh News & Observer notes. The misdemeanor charge sets a $1,000 fine or up to 60 days in jail.
"We have to pull society back into a realization that what you say and what you do, you are held accountable for them," Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina, told Fox Charlotte. She and her group lobbied to get the new law passed.
One in five teachers reports having been harassed online or knowing another teacher who was, the Fox affiliate says.
But the ACLU sees danger.
"Without definitions of 'torment' or 'intimidate,' it's not clear what online activity will violate the law," Sarah Preston of the state ACLU told the Raleigh newspaper. "It does invite arbitrary enforcement because there's no clear legal standard."
She said the law also criminalizes statements, even if they are true.
"Even if you post a factual statement about your teacher, then it could be criminal depending on the interpretation of those words," Preston said. "It would chill free speech because people wouldn't know what speech, what online activity might actually violate the law,"
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Union County, dismissed concerns about the law's meaning, saying that "intimidation" is clearly defined -- "to use a tactic that would cause someone to change one's behavior."
In 2009, N.C. legislators made it a crime to bully a student or a student's parent or guardian. For the first time, the 2012 law also explicitly protects gay, lesbian, and transgender students from bullying.
In addition, the new statute also shields teachers and school employees from criminal or civil action if they intervene "in good faith" to break up a fight involving students.
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