Do Not Feed the Troll – Cyberbullying and State Law

When widely defined as it has been in the context of this blog, griefing can be considered to widely encompass cyberbullying and trolling. While trolling is also an act directed at the online environment at large, or rather no particular individuals, cyberbulling involves acts of disruption and malfeasance against a single, targeted individual. These acts can be disruptive to single users to the point of driving them permanently off of an online service or even to causing extended user anguish even after the user has signed off of the online environment.

According to cyberbullying.org, “Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” stopcyberbullying.org goes further, extensively defining cyberbullying as “. . . when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.” It goes on to elaborate that cyberbullying never involves adults harrassing children.

Regardless of the exact definition of cyberbullying, it is clear that it is a growing problem in online environments. The ease of access to victims and persistence of the Internet allows bullying to continue beyond the schoolyard and into the homes of youth, creating a pervasive and persistent environment of harassment. Like all other components of real world that are mirrored on the Internet, society seemingly takes cyberbullying less seriously than it has standard real world bullying, when the risk to individuals might be even greater.

Take, for example, the suicide of Tyler Clementi, whose suicide in September of this year was widely reported in the national media. Clementi committed suicide after his roommate video streamed one of Clementi’s sexual encounters to the Internet. In being posted to the Internet, Clementi’s video and subsequent humiliation was made accessible to a much larger audience than would have otherwise been possible. The ability of bullies to be make their insults and degradations known to the anonymous masses can push bullying from a schoolyard misery to a full-blown cause of depression, and in some tragic cases, suicide.

What, then, can be done about cyberbullying? Many states have legilsation addressing bullying. The members of cyberbullying.us have compiled statistics on the issue, stating:

“A couple of weeks ago, we posted a brief summary of the state laws concerning bullying and cyberbullying. At last count, 44 states had laws regarding bullying, and 30 of those included some mention of electronic forms of harassment. Almost all of these laws simply direct school districts to have a bullying and harassment policy, though few delineate the actual content of such policies.”

When checking the list at http://www.cyberbullying.us/Bullying_and_Cyberbullying_Laws_20100701.pdf , it becomes obvious that the numbers are even less encouraging than that. While thirty states do indeed have electronic harassment provisions, very few states actually legislate against cyberbullying itself. As elaborated in the post at http://cyberbullying.us/blog/the-current-state-of-cyberbullying-laws.html , Wisconsin and a few other states have actually criminalized cyberbullying. Wisconsin Senate Bill 154 regarding bullying has incorporated prior state law about electronic communication harassment effectively making it a misdemeanor to cyberbully another individual, with the punishment being a fine and potential imprisonment.

Should other states step up and also criminalize cyberbullying? Clearly, putting the enforcement of current anti-bullying laws in the hands of schools is not effective. Administrators and teachers are already overburdened institutional mores don’t lend towards the end of real life bullying any time soon. To ask schools to extend their almost nonexistent prevention of bullying to the scary electronic realm would obviously be completely ineffective.

Cyberbullying increases the already existing danger presented to youth by bullying by a significant factor. Increasing harassment to a constant level and preventing victims from escaping it even when at home puts kids in a situation in which the psychological pressure often reaches a breaking point. To be able to effectively counteract the growing problem of cyberbullying, state legislators need to explicitly create laws addressing this issue. The next blog will address federal enforcement of online harassment on a broader level.

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~ by scottyufl on December 9, 2010.

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