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Tyler Clementi and cyberbullying: how courts ruled in five other cases

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2. State of Indiana v. A.B. (2007)

In March 2006, the state of Indiana filed a delinquency petition against a Greencastle Middle School student after the school’s principal discovered a web page on MySpace where the student posted “vulgar” criticism of the school’s anti-body-piercing policy. The student, referred to in court documents as “A.B.,” also created a publicly accessible group criticizing the principal, Shawn Gobert, and a fake account for the principal.

In June 2006, the court found that A.B.’s MySpace postings, if committed by an adult, would constitute the criminal offense of harassment. A.B. appealed, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana found that the comments were political speech protected by the Indiana Constitution and that the juvenile court had restricted her right of free expression.

In May 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court declined the appeals court’s rationale, but concluded that the state had failed to prove the statutory elements of criminal harassment. They also held that the state had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that A.B. posted with the intent “to harass, annoy, or alarm” Mr. Gobert, and that she had “no intent of legitimate communication” because she posted on her personal MySpace page, to which Gobert did not have access.

With regard to her expletive-laden comments on the publicly accessible group page, the court held that her comments were a made as a legitimate expression of anger and criticism of Gobert and the school, rather than with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm. 

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