Beware of the Cyber Bully

To begin our discussion, let’s start with some statistics, and a hypothetical to introduce the issue of cyber bullying. According to i-SAFE foundation, despite the potential damage of cyber bullying, it is alarmingly common among adolescents and teens with over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied–either in the real world or online–at least once and more than 1 in 3 young people have experienced threats online. Cybercrimes, cyber bullying and cyber stalking included, are extremely prevalent and pervasive, yet only 1 in 10 incidents of cyber bullying is reported to a parent or guardian; 1 in 5 is reported to law enforcement. In the United States alone, one of out of every 12 women (that’s about 8.2 million) and one out of every 45 men (2 million) have been stalked at some time in their lives—this includes online cyber stalking. Despite these numbing statistics, the first traditional stalking law was enacted less than a decade ago—in 1990, and law makers have still yet to enact a more focused online stalking—or even more general, an online cyber bullying—statute to protect against these crimes. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Related to our discussion last week in class regarding “griefing” and its effects on users worldwide, this blog will discuss the issues of and potentially damaging effects of cyber bullying and cyber stalking. My readings primarily encompassed these topics, but as the other members of the class were assigned readings incorporating material from Thursday’s class on griefing. My intention of this blog is not to dive into the topic of griefing, but rather to open that up to the class for discussion after having the opportunity to read how griefing plays a role within the realm of cyber bullying and potentially even cyber stalking.

To put cyber bullying into perspective…

Imagine walking down the hallway of your high school as everyone’s eyes turn and focus on you.  You hear the whispers and feel their eyes burning holes in your back.  You’re not sure why you’ve suddenly gone from Ms. Invisible to Ms. Center-of-attention, but while you should be able to enjoy this moment, instead, you feel ostracized and anxious,  like everyone is in on an inside joke that you clearly missed.  You rush into your homeroom class and log onto the computer and then onto your Facebook page.  In the upper right-hand corner, the news feed is fluctuating rapidly and you notice that everyone’s comments are cruel, biting, and focused on one particular comment talking about one person, and one person only. Wondering if this was what you clearly missed checking this morning, you quickly check the update and notice that it is was what you clearly missed checking this morning, you quickly check the update and notice that it the topic everyone is posting about is you.  Your ex-boyfriend posted a blatantly cruel and outrageous lie about you on his wall and now the entire school is worked into a frenzy.  Don’t they know it’s fake? Don’t they know you don’t have that? Don’t they know you didn’t sleep with him? It’s too late.  The words have been written and now the entire school thinks you’re a slut (etc.). Later that afternoon, you notice he posted again and this time he made sure to include a picture of you—naked—for the entire Facebook world, and all your classmates to see.

This is an all-too-common phenomenon among children and teenagers in the educational context. The appealing temptation of anonymity encourages and creates a prime breeding ground for cyber bullying.  While this scenario above is one we commonly associate with cyber bullying, one must also consider the instances where the cyber bully is not known to the victim who feels the repercussions of the bully’s actions.  The perpetrator could be a former friend or lover, a total stranger met in a chat room, or simply a teenager playing a practical joke. In addition, aimed with the knowledge that their identity is unknown, the bully might decide to pursue the victim at home, school, or work, creating email addresses in the victim’s name or gaining access to the victim’s wireless router and thus gaining access to the victim’s computer and all the files connected to this router. See, Adolf Indictment, Criminal No. 10-159.  The cyber bully could essentially be sitting in the office next to you, could cross you on the street, or be a classmate to whom you’ve never said a word.  This anonymity creates not only a veil of secret, exploitative opportunity, but also a situation in which law enforcement and the government fall short in protection due to a lack of resources, the ability to locate the bully (or stalker), and if caught, how to charge the individual as there is currently no specific statute addressing cyber bullying or crimes of this nature online.

Cyber bullying is defined as: the repeated use of computer and other modern communications technology, in an educational context, to engage in non physical abuse of another or others when the actions are constituents of a common educational context. The two requirements of this definition must be present or one cannot be labeled a cyber bully—1) contact must be repeated and 2) conduct must take place within an educational context—any educational institution, regardless of the age of those who attend.  It is worthwhile to note that while the contact must be repeated, it is often required that the contact be either directly aimed at or sent to the victim (ie. a text message or email sent to the victim calling him/her a “slut”) OR be indirectly focused on one person (ie. derogatory Facebook status or chat room response about a particular individual). In addition, more recent case law has focused on the motive and intent behind such postings and messages, and whether or not such intent was harmful and designed to harm the recipient in some manner.

I have to argue that, to me, some of the specific requirements don’t make much sense and I feel that we’re drawing too fine a line making the definition of cyber bullying too underinclusive. How can it be that the only way for someone to partake in bullying online—appropriately labeled “cyber bullying”—is if they engage in these hurtful activities within the educational context.  Yes, we often see that young people (and thus students) are main players in this game of cyber bullying, but does that mean we automatically rule out adults disconnected to the educational context, but equally as culpable of such vicious behavior?  Where does that leave Lori Drew, the woman who harassed her daughter’s friend via a fake Myspace page to the extent that this young girl ultimately committed suicide? (Lori Drew was acquitted of charges.)  I feel that many people are too quick to assume a “bully” is a child or teenager capable of inflicting hurtful comments or actions upon another. Even with a higher level of reasoning and greater frontal lobe development, adults outside of the educational world (ie. not teachers or principals) can be bullies too. I think that as we progress futher into the 21st Century and adults begin to use online resources like Myspace and Facebook more frequently to communicate with students and other young people (either as themselves or by using a pseudo identity), we will see an increase in the classification of adults as “cyber bullies” and an expansion beyond the constraints of the “educational context”.

For your reference:

Direct vs. indirect cyber bullying (not rising to level of credible threat)

Cyber bullying can be defined as communications that cause the victim to suffer substantial emotional distress (comparable to the criminal crime of “stalking”) or “harass or annoy” him/her (comparable to “harassment”).

Public Private
Direct 

Electronic communications aimed at or directly sent to victim

 

Direct, immediate effect on victim

 

Instant messagesEmail Text/MMS messaging 
Indirect 

Electronic communications

not directed at the victim. Instead, the bully posts them online

 

Gives rise to 2 issues:

1) To what extent did the cyberbully intentionally direct the online

communication(s) at the victim?

2) And to what extent did he/she intend that the communication(s)

would be seen by others whose reactions were likely to have a negative impact on the victim?

MySpaceFacebook

a specially created website or blog

some other reasonably public area of cyberspace.

The next question to arise is how to prosecute the individuals who conduct such cyber bullying and cyberstalking and the extent to which existing criminal offenses apply to cyber bullying.  Since most states do not have criminal cyber bullying laws, prosecutors who want to impose criminal liability on cyber bullies often rely on harassment statutes. In addition, it’s been argued that finding someone guilty of criminal defamation (slander and libel) also may work as a substitute to a law or statute criminalizing “cyber bullying”.

Harassment can be defined as “conduct directed toward a victim that includes, but is not limited to, repeated or continuing unconsented contact that would cause a reasonable individual to suffer emotional distress and that actually causes the victim to suffer emotional distress.” Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.411h(1)(c). To expand, harass means to “engage() in a “course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person” and “serves no legitimate purpose.” Review the chart above and focus on the “direct” cyber bullying row. Direct cyber bullying satisfies the essential, yet implicit, requirement of harassment—the actions or words must be directed at a specific victim.  Like other crimes against persons, harassment encompasses conduct targeting a particular individual and criminalizes emotional assault. Because of this, it’s “conceptually possible that harassment statutes could be used to prosecute those who engage in direct cyber bullying.” To determine whether one can be held legally accountable for their technological and virtual bullying of another, the “critical question is whether the conduct involved in direct cyber bullying can establish the mens rea, actus reus, and harm requirements of harassment.”  As an inchoate crime, harassment statutes require the highest level of mens rea (ie. acting intentionally, purposefully, and/or willfully). Because of this, to prove that someone engaged in cyber bullying, the prosecution must show that the perpetrator’s conduct “was directed at the victim and was intended to cause the proscribed harm” (likely to be “substantial emotional distress”) and that “the conduct the bully used was capable of, and did in fact inflict, the proscribed level of harm.” The problem lies in how the prosecution is to show and prove beyond a reasonable doubt “that the cyber bully acted with the purpose of causing his/her victim some level of emotional distress.” The prosecution also runs into the problem of imposing criminal liability on someone simply because they inflicted emotional distress on another person. “We all inflict emotional distress on others from time to time, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally,” but we are not being held criminally liable for these actions.

One way for intent to be proven is by way of the implied (or sometimes stated) element in many harassment statutes that is designed a basis for inference of intent.  These statutes “require that a perpetrator have purposefully engaged in a ‘course of conduct’ directed at a victim.”  This requirement incorporates objectivity into the mens rea analysis; “a jury can infer the requisite mens rea (purpose or intent) from the nature of the victim’s conduct (ie. the nature of the communications used to target the victim) and from its persistence.” Thus, a prosecutor could use a bully’s course of conduct (whatever it may have been) to “support the inference that the cyber bully not only knew the effect (their actions) would have on the victim, but wanted to cause this effect.”

But what about indirect cyber bullying—how do we refute an argument that a lack of direct communication targeting the victim negates the inference that the perpetrator has the specific intent to harass? This is where we’ve run into trouble and the law is not clear about the nexus between the perpetrator’s actions, the victim, and the consequent harm.

Another way that prosecutors are working toward holding cyber bullies criminally liable is through the crime of defamation.  Defamation “does not require that the defamatory material have been communicated directly to the victim” and thus “do not need to incorporate the distinction between direct and indirect cyber bullying.” It is not necessary to inflict harm by directly targeting the victim; criminal defamation is more concerned with “the more or less generalized communication of material that can provoke a breach of the peace and/or expose the person it concerns to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” To apply this concept:  a cyber bully logically could be prosecuted for criminal defamation if he/she (1) published information to one of more persons, (2) that was false, and (3) had the capacity to provoke a breach of the peace and/or expose the person it concerned to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” The first requirement should be met rather easily since a cyber bully “uses modern communications technology to disseminate information about or to his/her victim.” The second and third requirements should be equally unproblematic. A showing of actual malice might not even be necessary to prove criminal defamation so long as it can be proven that the cyber bully published or spread “any statement or object tending to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation of a private individual.” Mink v. Knox, 566 F. Supp. 2d at 1224 (quoting Colo. Rev. State. S. 18-13-105)

Today, we have made great strides toward address this problem. While there is still no federal act or statute criminalizing cyber bullying or cyber stalking, there has been a push toward passing acts designed to set a federal standard definition for the term cyberbullying, define the actions falling under this behavior, and establish repercussions for such behavior.  The federal Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act was introduced to Congress on April 2, 2009 following the Lori Drew incident. “If passed, the law would criminalize any online communication done ‘with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.’ To date, this Act has not been passed, but it shows the progressive nature of our nation in criminalizing cyber bullying and related cyber crimes.

Advertisements

~ by uflashley on October 8, 2011.

9 Responses to “Beware of the Cyber Bully”

  1. As I have read through articles discussing griefing and cyber-bullying, it is clear that griefing is a form of cyber-bullying. Griefers often target a specific group of people – newbies, furries, homosexuals – to grief, and more traditional cyber-bullies usually target a specific victim. The main distinction between the two is that griefers in a virtual world face little or no repercussions for their actions. Virtual worlds are designed to operate by their own rules, and not the rules and laws that govern the real world, so the worst that might happen to a griefer is that their account gets deleted and they must sign up a new account. While more traditional cyber-bullies bully via email or social media sites, the anonymity under which they can operate on these sites might allow them to think that, like griefing, there are little or no repercussions for their actions.

    The distinction between griefing and cyber-bullying is important, though, because cyber-bullies can and should be held accountable. People accessing social media websites are not signing up for an alternative world where regular rules do not apply. Social media is an extension of real-world communication, not an alternate world. Victims of griefing can exit the game, but victims of cyber-bullying do not have the option of exiting the world in which the bullying is taking place because it is happening in the real world. While only eight states currently have cyber-bullying laws, the awareness of the issue is growing rapidly and several states have proposed cyber-bullying laws, and 44 states have school policies on cyber-bullying. This illuminates the agreement amongst lawmakers that what happens on the internet does not stay on the internet. Cyber-bullying has real-world effects on its victims, and therefore the laws and regulations designed to protect us in the real-world should similarly apply to social media sites.

    As Tateru Nino stated in his blog post “Griefing as a phenomenon,” griefing is just another extension of bullying that has existed for generations. First there were bullies in school, and then those bullies began using social media, and now they are griefing in virtual worlds. The concept is the same – make someone else miserable. The issue now is that the bullying is viral and instantaneous. Middle-schoolers now have access to social media from their smartphones, and teachers and parents struggle to keep up with the speed at which these personal attacks occur. Whether they occur on Facebook or Second Life, these personal attacks have serious consequences for the victim. As evidenced by the Lori Drew case discussed in previous blogs, the consequences of cyber-bullying include death. Awareness for educators, parents, and victims will prove to be vital in policing cyber-bullying.

  2. Great post! My comment ties this blog back to the post that I wrote a few weeks ago regarding the hypothesis that there is no such thing as a cyber crime, and that elements of these crimes tend to be grounded in the real world. You mentioned in your post that the definition of cyberbullying is quite narrow, and that a lot of times, the cause of action falls under harassment. I thought this was interesting because as I was reading the narrowly-construed definition of cyberbullying, I was curious (as were you) as to why the language was so specific. Is it any worse for someone to labelled a cyberbully instead of “merely” harassing someone?

    I know that there are laws in place to protect against false or embarrassing information from needlessly being spread, but I think the cyberbullying laws (namely proposed ones such as the Megan Meier one) do need some kind of enforcement system. If I say something tasteless on Facebook, realistically nothing will happen, MAYBE I will get reported and banned from Facebook. Am I ever going to get prosecuted for starting a rumor about someone? No.

    That example right there is the problem. I’m not saying that there needs to be a suit filed every time someone starts a rumor, but there is essentially no cost to those who do (or for griefers, who are equally impervious). 30 seconds later, they have new identities and continue harassing, or maybe a minute later if they have to mask their IP address. I’d tell society to grow up in terms of starting rumors, but I know that’s just not going to happen.

    I really don’t know what to suggest in terms of solving the issue of cyberbullying or online harassment as a whole, other than people needing to report problems quickly and consistently, use good judgment (online and off), and grow skin that’s a little bit thicker.

  3. Ashley, very well written blog and I love your passion. Honestly though, I have to disagree with several aspects of your hypothetical. You start out with somebody being mortified because an ex posted something cruel or untrue about her on Facebook. This happens all the time in high school. It is sad and shouldn’t happen, but even without the Internet people’s reputation got crushed in the past through rumors, phone call gossip, and note passing and I don’t think prosecuting teenagers for that was the answer. I don’t see how the popularity of Facebook makes teenage gossip more actionable. The next part of your hypothetical is about her being upset because people will inaccurately think she slept with the guy, but as it turns out the ex has naked pictures of her. I want to be clear, I do not think this makes her a slut or justifies what the guy did, but it does make her adamant stance that the assumptions being made against her are false less believable. A defamation/libel/slander claim isn’t going to work here. Finally, if any high school guy put naked pictures of someone on Facebook, they would immediately be taken down and that ex would be charged with child pornography. He may not get a cyber bullying charge, but his charge is going to be much worse.

    I was wondering where you got your definition for cyber bullying. It does seem rather inexplicable that it is tethered to the educational system. I don’t see why there needs to be that distinction which creates unnecessary problems. Perhaps, it is because bullying is usually associated with children and when they get older the charge becomes more “grown up” in harassment, defamation, and stalking.

    I see your point in the difficulty in being able to successfully prove cyber bullying. What griefers do to me is dumb, serves no benefit, hurts others, and needs to be ended. But, I can see how even if mens rea and actus rea is proven, showing a harm from cyber bullying is difficult. I am not sure I know what the solution to that is. I think defamation is going to be stickier than what you think due to the second prong: the information being false. I think you have to be able to prove that the person knew the information was false when they said it, not simply that the information turned out to be false, and that creates legal difficulties.

    As for griefers, I think they hurt the future of virtual world expansion. New people are not going to engage in the software if griefing is prevalent. Therefore, if Second Life and other virtual worlds want to become more mainstream or “noob friendly” they are going to have to take serious steps to limit griefing. It sounded like from our class discussion though that griefing has become less common in Second Life so maybe they are becoming more proactive in their defenses. Prosecuting them seems difficult because although it seems like harassment to bombard a screen to the point that it is unplayable, it may not be repeated contact. The answer then may not lie with the government but with the virtual world creators.

  4. Your blog post goes from giving us an illustration of cyber bullying, and then jumps right to prosecuting… teenagers? Law students and lawyers focus on the law too much, I believe. We shouldn’t look to the law to fix all of our problems. Prosecuting teenagers should be the last option. Bullies are the products of bad parenting and a bad school system. Lets not bring bad laws into the mix. No doubt these kids will be left thinking that there are bullies, indeed: prosecutors!

    Surely there are some acts of cyber bulling probably are so egregious that they should be prosecuted, but those acts, like you point out, probably fall under the umbrella of existing offenses like defamation. I don’t see the mens rea requirements that you describe as a bad thing, I see that as a means of ensuring only the worst acts will be punished. Lets not forget that for the most part, we are talking about teenagers, and teenagers suck. Lets not put our resources into punishing kids, but into educating them, and making parents a part of their kids education.

    Your post was long; mine is short, but I think I’ve said all I want to say on this one.

  5. I will explore cyberbullying in general and then touch on cyberbullying in virtual worlds.

    Very good Post Ashley. I don’t think there is a single solution to cyberbullying and griefing. I am very skeptical of the law as an appropriate tool for this issue, however. The “educational context” requirement in the definition of cyberbullying demonstrates the lack of common sense arising when you try and use the law for everything. As a law student I am already coming up with all these hypotheticals that would distinguish from that definition, which serves as a distraction rather than a solution. I do, however, think that educational environments should develop policies to deal with this issue.

    Generally, cyberbullying is closely related to other forms of bullying which have always existed. Parenting is probably the appropriate solution for most instances of this issue.

    When looking at the cyberbullying.us website, I examined some posts about how school resource officers are trying to respond to cyberbullying and how states are creating laws directing school districts to address the issue:

    “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.”
    http://cyberbullying.us/blog/the-current-state-of-cyberbullying-laws.html

    I am curious to see which policies the various school districts will find most effective.

    It is important to remember that we are not forced to participate in many of the systems where this activity takes place, and sometimes withdrawal from a system is the best solution. For example, I do not Facebook. I closed my Myspace years ago after I found it created more headaches than I needed. I do not feel deprived from lack of social networking, and I am open to maybe doing it in the future. I love multimedia technology and online communication, I just am pointing out that these systems aren’t mandatory.

    Next, I will briefly discuss this issue in the context of virtual worlds. For example, the reading material described Looting of “newbies” as a common griefing tactic. These anecdotes summon up precedent of highway bandits robbing stagecoaches and bandits in the wild west. Some solutions presented in the reading material were to “Ignore” griefers, to form Guilds, and to use game design (code as code) to prevent griefing.

    The freedom offered by virtual worlds is one of their most compelling qualities, and I am hesitant to embrace the idea of legal restrictions on conduct in virtual worlds. I see griefing as an opportunity for virtual worlds to evolve. Private security, for example could be a lucrative business opportunity for groups of virtual world residents who have the computer skills to fend off griefers. Products such as shields or even weapons to combat griefers may be appropriate for some virtual world environments. This would help expand the virtual world economy to services beyond clothing designers and pornography. In addition, griefers in the public spaces of a virtual world may provide incentive for residents to buy private virtual land where they can be free of harassment.

    In closing, my discussion of cyberbullying and griefing was directed towards activity that was more annoying than dangerous. There are extreme examples that may require involvement of law enforcement. I am merely hesitant to embrace broad legal restrictions.

  6. Great post. The government should not get involved in regulating all forms cyber bullying. As you indicated, cyber bullying provides a certain level of anonymity that almost emboldens bullies. Normally, a bully might have some incentive to lay off a victim out of fear of getting caught. Yet, the anonymity that the internet provides, cyber bullying can be taken to much more extreme levels and, thus, might be more harmful to minors. I do agree that the definition of cyber bullying should not be limited to the educational setting. Certainly, the Lori Drew case is a good example of why the definition is insufficient.

    The proposed cyber bullying act seems to sufficiently address the potential harms caused by cyber bullying. If this proposed law is used in the same manner as the harassment statutes, it may not have as much teeth as its proponents would like. It is a positive sign that this issue is on Congress’s radar. However, the prosecution’s burden under this act should be pretty high. The law should provide criminal sanctions for cyber bullying to same extent that it provides criminal sanctions for real world bullies, harassers, and stalkers. While Congress should protect children against harassers and stalkers, it is not Congress’s job to imprison teens spreading silly rumors.

    This issue illustrates the adage that not all moral wrongs are crimes. Certainly, courts should not hold all social deviants criminally liable for their unethical actions.

  7. Your post brings up very difficult issues. I have to agree though that the better route to take against cyber bullies is the defamation route. Making laws targeting what people do online, I think, would be over exclusive and attack behavior that in real life is frowned upon but not illegal. David Becker, in his article “Inflicting pain on ‘griefers’” mentioned something I found very interesting. In the game EverQuest “players know each other and watch out for each other. The guilds have a good neighborhood-watch effect.” This seems like a great response to people who are causing problems in the virtual world. It’s terrible what has happened online, like the Lori Drew case, but if it was done in person I don’t know if it would receive the same attention. It may be a stretch to say that if in the Lori Drew case the parent who was bullying the kid wouldn’t receive as much attention, but I just feel people are too quick to allude to this “this is bad so it should be illegal argument.” This seems too much like the Wikileaks case where prosecutors are scrambling, trying to figure out what charges would stick. It took years and years for authorities to finally build up a case against online gambling sites because of difficulties faced like this. There is a movement against bullying which stars like Lady Gaga are promoting. Until it becomes illegal in real life, it should reflect accordingly online. As for griefers, I’m not sure why it’s so hard for companies to deal with them. Just like there is a talk button in Second Life, they can create buttons to report griefers and have developers ban them immediately. “According to research firm Yankee Group, multiplayer online games had 2.4 million U.S. subscribers and generated $209 million in revenue last year. That’s expected to grow to 5.2 million subscribers and $556 million in revenue by 2008.” Those were projections for 2008. The damage griefers account for can be severe where they are interfering with paid events. Those actions seem to be easier to go after than the typical cyber bullies we’ve discussed.

  8. There is no need for cyberbullying legislation. As per jramsay, teenagers have been slandering each other for generations. In my generation, slander was done via word of mouth or with photocopied flyers posted around the school. Why should criminal penalties now attach to the same group just because the harassment is now electronic? I can only think of 2 reasons, but I am not sure how credible they are. The speed and vast territory covered by a cyberbully is above and beyond anything the past generations could have done. A cyberbully could have a teenager ostracized not only in one school but in a number of schools or across multiple states. Further, the anonymity is alluring to the cyberbully. Previous generations had to spread the rumors themselves by word of mouth or by paper. I know this may be hard to believe now in the current electronic age, but I once knew a guy whose ex-girlfriend placed flyers all over Dartmouth College claiming that he had a sexually transmitted disease. The flyer name him and specified the disease. She was upset that he had broke off the relationship. Futher, as per joshroot, only egregious acts should be prosecuted under other criminal statutes. There is no need to make new statutes for cyberbully. Bullying or being bullied is a part of growing up. By prosecuting teenages for bullying, the legislature has closed a chapter in the life of the American teenager. No more will kids be able to identify with movies such as My Bodyguard, Mean Girls, Heathers, Karate Kid, Back to the Future, Carrie, Lucas, Revenge of the Nerds, or Weird Science.

  9. Bullying is ever acceptable, and cyberbullying is becoming an increasingly pervasive problem as a result of the current generations’ phenomenal use of the internet, especially social-network sites. Compared to traditional forms of bullying, the impact on a victim of cyberbullying is likely to be more severe due to the fact that cyberbullying can reach a larger audience. Additionally, cyberbullying tends to be more vicious than traditional bullying because either the perpetrator is hiding behind a veil of anonymity or feels more uninhibited since the interaction isn’t face-to-face. Although I definitely believe that cyberbullying needs to be swiftly addressed, I simply cannot wrap my head around creating new criminal laws to regulate the problem. Simply put, that’s not the answer.

    As we have seen in the news, cyberbullying has been linked to suicides. Although these instances are very tragic, I think they have been sensationalized by the media. Most instances of cyberbullying do not result in suicide, and in the cases where it has been linked to suicide, the cyberbullying is the trigger, not the cause. Although it may seem like it, suicides do not come “out of the blue”. Over 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their death, with untreated depression being the number one cause for suicide. Additionally, the decision to commit suicide builds slowly over time for reasons that are deep-seeded and lead to general feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “[s]uicide is never the result of a single factor or event, but rather results from a complex interaction of many factors and usually involves a history of psychosocial problems.” Thus, although the cyberbullying may have been the trigger in instances where the victim committed suicide, it was not the cause. And again, these instances are very, very rare.

    My primary reason for opposing the enactment of laws criminalizing cyberbullying is that it would undoubtedly having chilling effects on free speech. Provacative and even offensive speech is lawful, thanks to the First Amendment. Being a jerk or a bully is simply not a crime, and any statute that says it is would be unconstitutional. But there is a huge difference between speech that is merely offensive and threats. There is also a huge difference from frequently voicing your opinion and stalking or harassment. That all being said, most of the legislation that has been proposed with regard to criminalizing cyberbullying has been FAR too broad because they don’t address the issue of where the lines between offensive, constitutionally-protect speech and cyberbullying. Honestly, I am not confident that lawmakers will be able to craft legislation that doesn’t violate the First Amendment, which is why I am of the opinion that prosecutors should rely on existing laws for instances that rise to a level of criminality. If the cyberbullying involves harassment, then charge the perpetrator with that. If the cyberbullying involves an invasion of privacy, then go after the perpetrator for that. The same goes with stalking. If a prosecutor cannot find an existing crime to charge a person with, then the conduct of that person isn’t a crime.

    Additionally, I have an issue with cyberbullying with regard to the “educational context” aspect. I find this to be very vague. When exactly is cyberbullying in the “educational context”? Does someone have to use school computers or perhaps the school’s internet to have committed the cyberbullying in the educational context? Is it enough that the victim and the perpetrator go to the same school and thus will likely have face-to-face interactions after the cyberbullying has occurred, even if the actual cyberbullying occurred in the privacy of their own homes? What is the perpetrator and the victim never interact and the victim only feels isolation effects at school? Do school administrators or school resource officers really have the authority to regulate and/or punish off-campus cyberbullying? I really don’t think so.

    Finally, I think that cyberbullying laws would be extreme difficult to enforce and would create more problems that they solve. First of all, our law enforcement and judicial systems are already congested. Do we really want to add more cases? Not to mention, it would be extremely costly to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, especially given the fact that over 60% of kids today readily admit they’ve said something mean or hurtful to or about someone on the internet. Additionally, do we really want to be prosecuting kids? That could potentially result in millions of kids having criminal records before they even hit 18, all because they posted something mean on the internet. That seems absolutely outrageous. And given that most kids don’t even realize that what they are doing is considered to be cyberbullying, where is the deterrence in slapping them with criminal records after-the-fact? Further, a common response to cyberbullying is that the victim bites back. Would slapping both kids with criminal records really help to solve the problem? Hardly. It only creates more problems for their futures, and the future of society as a whole. My bottom line here is that I think criminalizing cyberbullying would be an egregious waste of resources and would result in more harm than help. This issue is better left to be resolved by parents and school administrators (if the cyberbullying occurs on campus) through the use of non-criminal, informal means.

    If society really wants to adequately address this issue, then we should implement educational programs for kids and for parents. Educate both groups of people on what constitutes cyberbullying and what the potential harms/dangers really are. I think that society should put more pressure on parents to teach their children how to behave on the internet, and less pressure on the criminal system to do the job for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: