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Girls Invoke Emoticon Defense In Cyberbullying Case


“I’m going to kill you LOL!!!” “U R So Dead ;-)” Do those sound like threats or playful texts? A group of girls in Indiana are being accused of cyberbullying for sending their classmates threatening messages, but the girls are invoking the emoticon defense. So the question is: Does a smiley face negate a threat?

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the girls last week saying that the Griffith Public School District violated the girls’ privacy rights by monitoring a conversation that happened off-campus. The ACLU also said that girls used emoticons and humorous shorthand, like LOL and ROFLMAO, which represent sarcasm.

ACLU attorney Gavin Rose told ABC 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.”

The “threatening” messages were posted on Facebook. Regina Webb, a mother of one of the victims, said that she didn’t see the humor in the threats. Webb also said that her 14-year-old daughter was afraid to go to school after seeing the remarks.

Webb also said that the girls were doing more than just making simple threats. They were using disturbing language and describing future crimes in detail. Webb said:

“When they’re talking about putting someone in a bathtub of acid and lighting someone on fire…my daughter being the last person mentioned, I find nothing funny about that. I just think that goes a little beyond joking. To me, that is calculated, that has been thought about, that has been planned.”

The emoticon defense may prove that the girl’s didn’t have the intention to harm but that doesn’t mean they won’t be charged with cyberbullying.

Justin Patchin, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said that cyberbullying is about emotional harm, not physical violence, and the girls could be punished if the messages were perceived as threatening.

Patchin said:

“My position is it doesn’t matter if they did use those emoticons…It doesn’t matter if the intent was to joke around…If we look at the content, would we be threatened by it? 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.”

What do you think of the emoticon defense? Does a smiley face negate a threat?

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26 Responses to “Girls Invoke Emoticon Defense In Cyberbullying Case”

  1. Brian Bloomfield

    Does an emoticon negate a threat?

    No, its a sarcastic in your face taunt when its placed next to a threat.

  2. Lloyd Seitz

    I would say that since a fairly high percentage of people that get bullied in school are autistic and incapable in many cases of distinguishing between bullying and joking that there is no difference if the person felt bullied then they were bulling him/her, and the use of such a flimsy and downright stupid defense is ludicrous.

  3. Anonymous

    How many times have you said to someone… jokingly.. "you're so dead"? Or maybe, after a friend slipped you a dribble glass, you replied "I'm going to punch you in the face." even though you were both laughing at the time?

    Parents, teach your kids to learn to read "context", and teach your kids how to write with it. We lose 85% of our conversation when we aren't face to face and communicating via written text. If you can't read context in a message, then it's time to put away the facebooks, the myspaces, and all the other social media crap.

    Oh.. and parents.. you can password protect your kid's computer and/or use programs to lock down certain websites, like social media sites… it's called parenting.

  4. Mary Schultz

    I don't believe in the concept of "cyber bullying" anymore than I believe "cyber sex" is an affair. It's the internet. If it offends you, stay off of it. Over sensitive people make it annoying. FB has a delete and block option. USE IT or shut off the silly computer!

  5. Matthew Kabua Blanco

    I don't think people are being "oversensitive" in this case. Mary, if someone threatened to kill you whether it be on the internet or real life, THAT'S SERIOUS SHIT.

  6. Brett Wereb

    Nobody did anything wrong, a threat is just that, a THREAT. Nobody was hurt, nobody acted violent. What happened to my right to free speech? As long as I don't physical with someone, I didn't do anything wrong. Get some ice for your butthurt and STFU.

  7. Brett Wereb

    I appreciate your comment, but it doesn't really have much to do with the topic at hand. 😛 Have a great morning btw!

  8. Sonya Sims

    Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one's opinions and ideas via speech. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity and incitement to commit a crime. Threats fall under the heading of incitement to commit a crime, therefore threats are not protected by your right to free speech. So you need to understand that you don't have to get physical to be charge with an assault, you merely have to threaten to get physical. You should also be aware that if you threaten to assault someone with a weapon, you can be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, so if you don't want to do the time…don't threaten to do the crime.

  9. Brett Wereb

    You can call me cunt beard all you like, I really don't care. lol. And Sonya, STFU. 😛 The person in question in the article, was not injured or ACTUALLY hurt in anyway. If what the other people were doing was really bothering them, than the "victim" in question should have just blocked them or ignored them. And when I hear "Freedom of Speech", I legitimately think you know, Freedom? To say whatever I want, whenever I want. It's not problem if you get butthurt over what I say. You can choose to ignore me if you wish. Like I always say, If someone has a problem with something I say, they're the one's with the problem. Not me. I don't fucking care how you "feel". Grow the fuck up and quit being such a whiny bitch, ya dig?

  10. Mary Schultz

    It's not "in your face" though. it's on a screen. You can't say that anything someone says online is "in a specific" tone or with a certain intent. There is no body language, there are no verbal inflections to que you as to what someone means. It's being read. You could read the same comment on multiple days and get a different "meaning" out of it. It really depends on the readers mood at the time if they see something as being nasty or funny or whatever.

  11. Mary Schultz

    While I agree with your view that the mentally disabled are often targets, I don't see where that translates to cyber bullying. By what I get from what you said, autistic kids have a hard time figuring it out to begin with, so by that, why would a parent allow them to be "harrassed" online? It's hard for a person of normal mental function to decide sometimes if what they are reading is "rude" or "sarcastic humor". Why would a parent subject their child to that confusion? I think the idea of "cyber bullying" is rediculous as it is, but what about a parent that doesn't monitor what their child is doing online? Besides, having a face book or other social media is NOT a birth rite.

  12. Brian Bloomfield

    Mary Schultz Good point, but it depends on the person who is texting. If a bully sends you a text that says "Kill yourself" with a winky face their sarcastic intention is obvious, regardless of body language or verbal inflection.

  13. Mary Schultz

    Brian Bloomfield ok.. point taken, however why does this "bully" have access to your phone number? Seems to me either you shouldn't be posting your private information or you have a friend somewhere that's not your friend and they're sharing your information. If someone texts something like that, sure, it's mean, however you don't have to read it. even phones have a delete feature. You don't even have to open the thing to delete it.

  14. Chrissy Lundy Kling

    if the girl was afraid to go to school then something is wrong! I agree with comments such as it's a computer, you can block people, nobody was hurt, etc……but we all know what it's like to go to school and if you don't fit in then it sucks! Plus how do you know that there was no harm done? You don't plus I'd say it's harmful if someone is afraid to go to school. Not only that but with all of these sick people in the world you don't know if something could happen to this girl, whether it be self inflicted or one of these people actually hurting her…..this could be a sign! You don't know and that's what's scary!

  15. Mary Schultz

    Matthew, are you telling me you have NEVER said "I'm gonna kill you" to someone, angry or joking? Did you mean it? Was it serious?

  16. Kris Miles

    Mary Schultz Yes but a threat that isn't in person doesn't mean that the threat isn't serious, the threat may have been sarcastic and I doubt that they were planning on putting this person in a bath of acid but its still bullying as it is upsetting to be hounded constantly and then to have to take it as a joke.

  17. Kris Miles

    Mary Schultz Yes but a threat that isn't in person doesn't mean that the threat isn't serious, the threat may have been sarcastic and I doubt that they were planning on putting this person in a bath of acid but its still bullying as it is upsetting to be hounded constantly and then to have to take it as a joke.

  18. Mignon Aune

    1) In my opinion, if someone writes a threatening message, there is enough intent even though they say it was meant only as a joke, adding the smiley face does NOT negate the message. It is in poor taste.

    2) Cyber bullying is as real as doing it in person, it is meant to hurt others.

    3) Cyber-bullying is when a person is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another person. Bullying (in any form) is bullying and bullying is a negative thing, and it is wrong!

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