Arrested For Sexist Tweets

One of the early Ethics Alarms posts about schools disciplining students for their use of social media involved a male student who rated his female classmates in a Facebook post. In 2016, Harvard  cancelled the men’s soccer season as punishment for “the widespread practice of the team’s players rating the school’s female players in sexually explicit terms.” [The Ethics Alarms Quiz about that episode, which I just read, as well as the 156 comments it generated including two Comments of the Day, is a good one, and I’ll offer it here as another Ethics Alarms archives feature worth revisiting: Ethics Quiz: The Harvard Soccer Team’s “Locker Room Talk.”]

At Perrysburg High School in Ohio, however, the reaction of administrators to a similar incident plows new and especially alarming ground.  After many students reported his Twitter account for rating the school’s female students in derogatory terms, the school had him arrested and charged with “telecommunications harassment.”NBC reports that 18-year-old Mehros Nassersharifi has been issued a summons to appear in court, and faces expulsion from the school.His account, @GirlsRanked, purported  to list the “hottest girls” at Perrysburg.

No news yet if the school plans on confining him in an Iron Maiden or branding “SEXIST!” on his face.

There’s no quiz necessary here. What the school has done is far, far worse than a high school kid’s juvenile Twitter account. It is also one more item on my growing list of how the cancerous progressive fervor for installing “woke” attitudes into the culture using force and intimidation continues to metastasize.

No, you can’t prosecute someone based on the content of a Tweet. Every single student at Perrysburg High School should already know that, and indeed should have known it since the sixth grade at least. Yet apparently the teachers and administrators at the school don’t know it. First Amendment? What First Amendment?

Whether or not a personal social media post made off campus can even be the legitimate target of school discipline is an open question—even if such speech could be prohibited by the school, its policies would have to provide him with fair notice that his tweets were forbidden,before he could be punished for them—this is not. The school is using the law enforcement system for mind and speech control, just like so many progressive fanatics advocate. Nassersharifi’s tweets made the girls feel unsafe!

The weak, weak, gossamer thin thread that the schools censors claim supports this iron boot tactic is that the tweets “disrupted” the learning environment, but again, that;s an argument for school discipline, not arrest and trial.University of Toledo law professor Rob Salem told the media that the speech may be punishable by the school if it had the effect of causing “substantial unrest” within his school: “The school would have to link the tweet to disruption in the school’s learning environment. Students may have free speech rights off campus.”

Students MAY have free speech rights off campus?

“Mamas, don’t let your babies learn law at Toledo…Don’t let ’em take classes that Rod Salem holds…Their values will rot and their common sense mold…”

There is no debate here, no controversy. The State can’t punish you for a sexist tweet. What are the odds that the Ohio ACLU will back the oppressed student? I want to hear Christiane Amanpour weigh in, and reveal whether she believes, as she suggested to  James Comey, that the government should “shut down” language it finds distasteful. I want someone to ask uber-feminist Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand if she supports sending young men to the stocks for opining on their female colleagues’ womanly charms on Facebook or Twitter. Kamala Harris, too: what does the former prosecutor think?  Who will ask them such a question in the candidate debates? Nobody at CNN or MSNBC, we can be sure of that.

We have one side of the political spectrum slowly expanding its definition of “hate speech,” and slyly avoiding saying outright what its “base” wants it to say, which is that “hate speech”—you know, anything that makes the right gender, the right races, the right self-identified victims, feel “unsafe”—needs to be banned, censored and punished.

No, I don’t think this is an isolated episode.

I think it’s a warning.


Pointer and Facts: Liberty Unyielding

13 thoughts on “Arrested For Sexist Tweets

  1. Well, this is a fascinating story about which very little information exists. I ran into this statement in a few of the reports about this incident:

    The school district’s superintendent said last week that the Twitter account went beyond rating others. He says it involved targeted harassment and intimidation.

    Ohio has a telecommunications harassment law, title 29 para. 2917.21 which forbids, among other things apparently unrelated to the instant case:

    1. Makes a telecommunication to harass, intimidate or abuse a person whether or not actual communication between caller and recipient occurs;

    2. Describes, suggests, requests, or proposes that the caller, the recipient, or any other person engage in sexual activity if one of the persons involved have previously requested the caller not do so;

    3. Knowingly makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal to the recipient of the telecommunication that is threatening, intimidating, menacing, coercive, or obscene with the intent to abuse, threaten, or harass the recipient;

    Let us stipulate also that this law covers the Internet as a telecommunication. Whether or not that is factually correct, laws generally are construed broadly by the courts when it comes to electronic transmission of content.

    So Ohio has a law on the books that probably covers this situation if the rest of the reporting is correct. The problem is, similar statutes in several jurisdictions including North Carolina and New York (of all places) have been found to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Here is FIRE’s commentary on the matters.

    To me, at first glance, the Ohio statute looks unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. For example, who gets to decide what “obscene” means in this context? “I’ll know it when I see it” seems unlikely to pass strict scrutiny. Additionally, “intimidation” these days seems to be an “eye of the beholder” matter. Neither term is defined in the statute.

    Another big question is, does the specific content matter? If it does, it will likely fail a strict scrutiny analysis. For instance, if the ranking were the subject matter, and a ranking of, say, the most “woke” people in the class would not be equally harassing, then the case would likely fail strict scrutiny.

    This case will probably revolve around the particular facts, some of which we don’t currently know. Laws like Ohio’s my legally forbid harassing or intimidating conduct, but harassing and intimidating content is likely to be subject to strict scrutiny if it is reviewed by the courts, and such laws almost always fail strict scrutiny analysis.

    Since we don’t know allk of the content and behavior at issue, we don’t know if this is actually a violation of the First Amendment or a person engaging in illegal activity that the courts have found sufficiently defined as actions rather than mere content.

    Most likely, the authorities will successfully punish this young man and ruin or damage his life. I doubt the young man’s family will be willing to take this case to the appeals courts and beyond if he loses (because they probably agree his conduct was lawless), and I find it most unlikely that it will ever see the inside of a courtroom at all.

    But your broader point…

    There’s no quiz necessary here. What the school has done is far, far worse than a high school kid’s juvenile Twitter account. It is also one more item on my growing list of how the cancerous progressive fervor for installing “woke” attitudes into the culture using force and intimidation continues to metastasize.

    … is undoubtedly correct. The Left in this country is bound and determined to control speech. Specifically, they are determined to forbid speech of which they disapprove. This is more direct evidence of this effort, and to a large extent, especially in local jurisdictions, they are succeeding.

    • Disagreement is now considered hate.

      Students have told me Chick-fil-A was guilty of hate because their values disagree with the majority LGBTQ agenda.

      I asked what they had done beyond supporting their own values and no one could answer.

      • It doesn’t matter what they call it, they want it to be illegal to take a position that opposes the orthodoxy of the Left. Whether it’s “hate” or “violence” or “making people feel unsafe,” is pretty much just a justification for the action they want to take.

  2. “No, you can’t prosecute someone based on the content of a Tweet.”

    Well, since they seem to be doing it, I guess you can. You SHOULDN’T, but you definitely can.

    “The State can’t punish you for a sexist tweet. ”

    Again, they shouldn’t, but they probably can. You can’t initiate a tax bill in the Senate, either, but they did and the Supreme Court allowed it. You can’t apply the legal penalty for a crime after a person is found ‘not guilty’ in court, but Ohio has (To challenge a speeding ticket in court, you first have to pay the fine. If you win in court, you don’t get the fine back). You shouldn’t be able to convict someone of a ‘non crime’ in court and then sentence them, but isn’t that what happened to Michael Cohen? They shouldn’t be able to destroy your house on a mistaken tip and then leave you to pay for the damages yourself, but they do.

    They shouldn’t be allowed to burst into your house with a no-knock warrant and kill you even though you are unarmed and haven’t committed any crimes, but they do (more and more, it appears that the 4 officers wounded were hit by ‘friendly fire’).

    In the immortal words of Daniel Muessig, “Laws are arbitrary”. As long as laws are arbitrary, anything acceptable to the ‘right’ people is OK. People accepted political correctness as not bad enough to do something about. People accepted ‘good’ discrimination as justified for previous discrimination. People accepted a school system that was wholly partisan and anti-American because they didn’t want to be called racist. Well, here we are today and this prosecution is acceptable to enough of the ‘right’ people in Perrysburg, OH, that it can happen.

    • Well, since they seem to be doing it, I guess you can. You SHOULDN’T, but you definitely can.

      Well, the problem here is that there is a suggestion that the tweets were more than what we’ve seen so far, and fall under the rubric of a harassing or intimidating act of communication, which the law in Ohio does criminalize.

      The problems with this are manifold as I examined somewhat above. Definition of “harassing”, “intimidating,” etc? Not found in the statute.

      And since we are talking about speech, that means that the lack of a definition is a problem, since such restrictions require a process that is the least restrictive possible, even if you can get past strict scrutiny — which I doubt you could in this case.

      You are correct, though, that making unconstitutional laws is a tried and true product of government. Until someone actually has the means or determination to challenge them in the state or federal appellate courts, these laws are valid.

      I think we can all understand and even agree with the impulse behind them — to protect people from the kind of assaults that deprive them of their right to be left alone, to be “secure in their persons.”

      The problem is always the execution and wording, and you’ve rightly pointed out that when laws become arbitrary or insufficiently precise, the become a bigger problem than the conduct they purport to regulate.

  3. It’s not just the left doing this. Some on the American right helped enact, and continue to support, the idea of “hate crimes”, where not only the crime, but the thought are punished. Once this was accepted, it became an easy step to stand-alone punishment of speech.

    Some seem determined to put us on the same path as the most surveilled state in the world…..No, not China or N. Korea, but once-Great Britain. There, people have been arrested and jailed for using a wrong pronoun on line; for saying something rude about a dead person; for associating with an unapproved group and owning a book (no actual criminal acts or conspiracy; book easily available to view on line); prosecuted and convicted for teaching a dog a stupid trick. Hearing about the Ohio law, I have to wonder how long it will be now before we become the same sort of Orwellian sheep-pen.

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