The Colorado Supreme Court unanimously struck down part of the state’s 7-year-old cyberbullying law Monday on the grounds that the statute limits free speech and violates both the Colorado and U.S. constitutions.
The state’s harassment laws were tweaked in 2015 to strengthen protections for victims of cyberbullying — a measure named for a Highlands Ranch teenager who attempted suicide after being cyberbullied — but the justices on Monday said the law was overly broad.
As written, the law could be used to prosecute people for constitutionally-protected speech, the justices found. The law could criminalize online communication like negative restaurant reviews, social media posts about public health protocols, irate emails, diatribes posted about public figures by disgruntled constituents, or antagonistic comments left on news sites, Justice William Hood wrote in the opinion.
“The primary concern here isn’t the invasive medium the government seeks to regulate — omnipresent electronic communication — but how much the statute impinges on or potentially chills speech,” Hood wrote. “Today’s technology merely amplifies this old-fashioned problem.”
Monday’s decision echoes a stance the court took in 1973, when it considered the case of a man charged with harassment for mailing anti-abortion material to about 2,400 people in Boulder County. The man, Frank Bolles, argued the state’s harassment statute at the time was too broad, and the state Supreme Court agreed and struck it down as unconstitutional.