• Tweeting leads to arrest of 12-year-old

    Date: 02.15.12 | by Judge Tom.

    Arkansas, like many states, has criminalized bullying online. Cyberbullying is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. School districts have included cyberbullying in their policies with some allowing discipline when students harass someone online from an off-campus location.

    Bentonville High School has such a policy that is currently being tested. On January 25, 2012, the Bentonville police arrested a 12-year-old student whose Twitter name was “@Freezebook.” His actual name was not disclosed since he’s a minor.

    “Freezebook” is facing four counts of harassing communications. Most states have not created a new crime called “cyberbullying.” It is the acts of the cyberbully that constitute a crime. For example, a bully can be charged with harassment, intimidation, threats or stalking. These crimes are already on the books in every state. In this case, Freezebook’s “violent, racist, homophobic  and sexually explicit Twitter updates targeting Bentonville High School students” fit under the state’s harassment laws. As such, his posts constitute an arrestable offense. The investigation continues.

    A few days later, the same police department arrested three girls, 16 and 17 years-old for Twitter bullying of other students. Their hateful statements resulted in citations to appear in court. One victim missed three days of school due to low self esteem from the messages.

    Shortly after this incident in Arkansas, four students at two Indiana high schools were caught tweeting sexual and racial comments about fellow students and a basketball coach. Two of the students used school equipment during class to create the fake Twitter accounts. They have been suspended and two are being considered for expulsion. A district spokesperson said that the Acceptable Use Policy is in every Student Handbook and that using school property to create the Twitter accounts violated the policy.

    In July, 2012, a police investigation began regarding students at Worthington High School in Minnesota. Several students and recent graduates of the school have reportedly tweeted over ninety times about classmates. The messages were referred to as sexually explicit, derogatory and “simply untrue.” Possible charges include terroristic threats, harassment and libel according to local law enforcement. The school may also take action against the students although they will be challenged on the issue of school being out and the tweets occurring off-campus.

    In another incident, 19-year-old William Koberna of Ohio was arrested in July, 2012, after tweeting a profanity-laced message to Kent State University and its president. He was charged with inducing a panic and aggravated menacing and was required to post a $50,000 bond in order to be released pending further proceedings. He wrote that he was “going to shoot up the campus.” Upon release, the computer science student will be monitored with an electronic bracelet and is prohibited from any contact with the president of the university.

    A survey conducted in July, 2011, by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 16% of young people, ages 12 to 17, said they used Twitter. That was double the percent from a survey in 2009.

    Regardless of the means of communication, if you cross the line into someone else’s space, you may have committed a crime. When a victim is harmed by someone’s speech, the method of delivery matters little. Bottom line, think before you send.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    1 Comment subscribe to these comments.

    • Samuel
      Thu, 04 Apr 2013 at 06:08

      I think half of these stories are made up.Anyone can claim to be cyber bullied but that doesn’t make it true.So while one person might be offended at something,the poster may not.So cyberbullying is a case that relies on opinions.Someone could call talking about JESUS cyberbullying.Those who say that are more intolerant than anyone else in the world.
      Thank you for your comments, Samuel. You are absolutely right that the acts/message that constitute cyberbullying can be somewhat subjective and based on one person’s opinion or interpretation of the message. At the same time, don’t you think that in many cases, it should be obvious to the person sending the message or posting the comment that what they are doing is wrong, cruel, with the intent to hurt someone else, etc.? So many of us would have to admit to getting caught up and being a cyberbully at least on one prior occasion. It doesn’t mean that we initially set out to hurt another person, but if we engage in someone else’s comments, etc., we are helping spread the cruelty. We all must be aware of our actions and practice being good digital citizens.