Emoticon use defense in cyberbullying case

04/29/2012 // West Palm Beach, Florida, US // justicenews // Justice News Flash

Indianapolis – A lawsuit filed on behalf of three young girls accused of cyber bullying claims the use of emoticons in conversational messages deemed threats should be taken into consideration. As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the 14 year-old eighth graders were expelled from their northern Indiana school for a Facebook thread that purportedly contained negative comments aimed at other students. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana recently filed the lawsuit citing the students’ use of emoticons and online shorthand shows the banter between the girls did not pose a serious threat.

ACLU attorney Gavin Rose is quoted by the AP as stating of the matter in an email, “The legal analysis asks whether a reasonable person viewing the conversation would conclude that the girls were about to inflict imminent harm. I think the use of emoticons and other forms of Internet-speak are simply one factor demonstrating that that was not the case.”

Justin Patchin, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, is further quoted in the report as stating, “It doesn’t necessarily take an actual threat for the school to get involved in disciplining the students… If the target in this case didn’t feel safe to be at school, then the school has the authority to take action.”

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