First amendment groups warn NJ attorney general of broad ‘cyberbullying’ definition

FIRST AMENDMENT GROUPS WARN N.J. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF BROAD ’CYBERBULLYING’ DEFINITION
November 10‚ 2008

NEW JERSEY — Free speech advocates sent a statement of concern to the New Jersey State Attorney General urging caution in a policy initiative to prevent cyberbullying on college campuses statewide.

An Aug. 26 letter and press release by State Attorney General Anne Milgram to every New Jersey college and university asked each institution’s president to check that their school’s policies “incorporate the topic of cyber-harassment‚ which includes stalking‚ bullying‚ and/or sexual exploitation‚ into your school’s code of conduct‚ with consequences for those who engage in these activities.”

Milgram’s request to instill punishment on college-aged adults partaking in cyberbullying is a first for the United States. Most punishments nationwide for the problem have usually occurred in the elementary‚ middle‚ and high school levels.

Her letter was an outgrowth of a consumer fraud investigation of the controversial and popular college Web site JuicyCampus.com. The site allows anonymous posting by users who have sometimes written insulting personal remarks about specific students on their campuses. Topics discussed on the site range from the smallest trivia to discussion of alleged sexual experiences with named individuals.

In response to Milgram’s initiative‚ three groups that advocate for the protection of First Amendment rights — the Student Press Law Center (SPLC)‚ the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education‚ and the New Jersey chapter of Society of Professional Journalists (NJSPJ) — sent a letter cautioning of the possible unintended consequences of broad speech restrictions.

In the letter‚ the groups acknowledge speech that is not protected by the First Amendment but warn that prohibiting harmless speech under the undefined legal term “bullying” could cause constitutional problems.

“An open-ended directive that colleges enact codes of conduct that punish the use of computers for ’bullying’ will invariably cause some administrators to penalize lawful speech that falls within the protection of the First Amendment‚” the groups wrote. “There is a difference — qualitatively‚ and constitutionally — between speech that threatens versus that which merely causes hurt feelings.”

David Wald‚ a spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s office‚ said personal information like college students’ dorm room addresses and phone numbers was part of the reason Milgram wrote the letter to college and university presidents.

“That’s part of it and of course things that are malicious and just wrong‚” Wald said. “Those are the things we worry about when people abuse the Internet.”

Wald said Milgram intended on speaking with the New Jersey President’s Council to address her concern for a cyber-bullying policy to be enforced at their colleges or universities on Nov. 17 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. But‚ an official for the NJPC said the Attorney General intends on speaking to “every vice president of student affairs” at a private meeting not intended for the public on Nov.…

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Long-time adviser to N.J. college paper gets job back in lawsuit settlement

By E&P Staff
Published: June 15‚ 2007

Note: Karen Bosley is a longtime member of NJSPJ]

CHICAGO — Karen Bosley — who gained national attention when she was ousted after 35 years as advisor to the Ocean County (N.J.) College student newspaper — has permanently won her job back as part of a lawsuit settlement that also guarantees school officials will not interfere with the content of the Viking News.

The settlement also creates a new student media advisory board‚ with broad powers over budget and staffing of the Viking News and other student media. But it will be prohibited from involving itself in content of the media‚ according to the settlement.

Bosley had contended in her lawsuit that she was removed as advisor to the school paper in 2005 because of articles critical of the school and its president Jon Larson. The administration said she was removed because she resisted changes to professionalize the look and operation of the Viking News.

Bosley was returned as advisor under a temporary restraining order issued last year.

The settlement was reported Friday by the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press in an article by Kirk Moore of the paper’s Toms River bureau‚ and by the Student Press Law Center in an article by staff writer Tim Hoffine.

Ocean County College agreed in the settlement to a broad statement in favor of student First Amendment rights:

“Ocean County College supports the free speech rights of students and employees and a student press free from prior review‚ prior restraint‚ or censorship as well as recognizes all student media as limited public forums. Therefore‚ the exercise of these rights or freedoms cannot be the subject directly or indirectly of any sanction or dismissal from Ocean County College.”

In addition to the lawsuit‚ Bosley’s ouster prompted College Media Advisors‚ the organization of student-run media advisors‚ to formally censure Ocean County College in 2006. An exhaustively detailed‚ 23-page report from a Society of Professional Journalists task force criticized both Bosley and the administration calling the dispute “a case study in suspicion‚ frustration‚ escalation and the hardening of positions on all sides.”

Bosley’s ouster was the subject of an E&P column in 2006.…

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NJSPJ voices support for NYT

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recently passed a motion denouncing the government’s verbal attack on and calls for an investigation of the New York Times after the news organization published an article on June 23‚ 2006 illuminating the government’s bank monitoring program used to track terrorists.

“As journalists we believe strongly in the letter and spirit of the First Amendment‚” said David Levitt‚ past president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “While we respect the rights of those who question the Times’ decision to publish this and other articles‚ we draw the line at those in government who would use threats of prosecution to chill the press’s right to conduct independent and critical inquiry into government actions.”

The motion calls the verbal attack on the New York Times and the government’s want to investigate and prosecute the newspaper “appalling‚”‚ “uncalled for‚” and “outrageous.”

“For government officials to say the New York Times should be charged with treason is outrageous‚” the motion partially reads. “A continuation along this path will inevitably lead to a chilling of voices independent of government authority and a de-facto repeal of the First Amendment – leaving us minus the precious freedom millions have fought for‚ and restoring a piece of the tyranny we overthrew 230 years ago.”

The motion also notes the chapter’s support of the decision of the New York Times and other news organizations to publish stories about the monitoring program.

Below is a full copy of the NJSPJ motion:

New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Motion addressing the chapter’s position on the recent government attacks on the New
York Times following an article it published exposing the government’s bank-monitoring
program:

Whereas the Society of Professional Journalists advocates and defends freedom of the
press and the rights of journalists across the world.

Whereas on June 23, 2006, The New York Times, as well as other newspapers published
articles exposing a government program that monitors financial transactions as a way to
track potential terrorists and those with ties to terrorist organizations. The Times story, by
Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, was headlined “Bank Data Sifted in Secret by U.S. to
Block Terror.”

Immediately after the published articles appeared, verbal attacks began on the New York
Times, criticizing their decision to expose the program. Government officials called for
an investigation into and prosecution of the New York Times for allegedly committing
various crimes by publishing the article, including treason. On June 29, the House of
Representatives passed a resolution that, without mentioning any news organization by
name, condemned the disclosure and publication of classified information “that impairs
the international fight against terrorism.”

The executive board of the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists believes the
attack on the New York Times is appalling and uncalled for.…

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