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Cyberbullying

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Definitions Edit

Cyberbullying is

the willful and repeated use of cell phones, computers, and other electronic communication devices to harass and threaten others. Instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mails, and messages posted on websites are the most common methods of this new twist of bullying. Cyberbullies can quickly spread messages and images to a vast audience, while remaining anonymous, often making them difficult to trace.[1]
[the] practice of using technology to harass, or bully, someone else. Bullies used to be restricted to methods such as physical intimidation, postal mail, or the telephone. Now, developments in electronic media offer forums such as email, instant messaging, web pages, and digital photos to add to the arsenal. Computers, cell phones, and PDAs are current tools that are being used to conduct an old practice.

Forms of cyberbullying can range in severity from cruel or embarrassing rumors to threats, harassment, or stalking. It can affect any age group; however, teenagers and young adults are common victims, and cyberbullying is a growing problem in schools.[2]

Overview Edit

Cyberbullying is basically the same as real-world bullying, though it has elements that do not exist in the physical world such as anonymity, the ability to impersonate the victim, follow the victim home, embarrass the victim in front of an unseen (and potentially vast) online audience and persist online over a long period of time.

Cyberbullying takes on various forms, including using emails, instant messaging, and text messages to send harassing and threatening messages or posting such messages in chat rooms, on "bash boards" and on other social networking websites. Another common method of cyberbullying is the online posting or electronic distribution of embarrassing pictures or videos. It may also involve the creation of websites that mock, torment and harass the intended victim or victims. Some websites can even be used by cyberbullies to create online polling or voting booths, allowing users of the website to vote on things such as the "ugliest" or "fattest" classmate.[3]

Also, cyberbullying is typically psychological rather than physical and it is possible for the bully to remain anonymous.

Cyberbullying can be particularly destructive, because it can spread to many people very quickly and it can be done anonymously or through impersonation. As well, harmful comments and pictures can remain posted online and continue to be viewed and circulated for an indefinite period of time. The victimized person is faced daily with the hurtful material and often feels that many other people share the views of the perpetrator, often resulting in overwhelming psychological pressure.[4]

There is often a link between cyberbullying and real-world bullying.

Recent cyberbullying legislation reflects a trend of making school districts the policy enforcers of such misconduct. As a result, statutes establish the infrastructure for schools to handle this issue by amending existing school anti-bullying policies to include cyberbullying or electronic harassment among school age children. The majority of these state laws establish sanctions for all forms of cyberbullying on school property, school busses and official school functions. However, some have also extended sanctions to include cyberbullying activities that originate off-campus, believing that activities off-campus can have a chilling and disruptive effect on children's learning environment. The sanctions for cyberbullying range from school/parent interventions to misdemeanors and felonies with detention, suspension, and expulsion in between. Some of these laws promote Internet safety education or curricula that covers cyberbullying.[5]

A list of enacted state statutes regarding cyberbullying from the National Conference of State Legislatures is available here.

Megan Meier case Edit

Cyberbullying made national headlines in November 2007 after the suicide of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl. In that case, the mother of a former friend of Megan's set up a fake MySpace page, pretending to be a boy who had just moved to the area and was home-schooled. Within a few weeks of becoming "friends" with "Josh," on October 15, 2006, the tone of his messages changed drastically, with "Josh" saying he no longer wanted to be friends with Megan, because "he" had heard that she had been mean to some of her friends. On October 16, 2006, Megan hanged herself in her closet.

The mother was charged with violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for her alleged role in the hoax. The Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years of imprisonment if one "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization . . . , and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer if the conduct involved an interstate ... communication" and "the offense was committed in furtherance of any . . . tortious act [in this case intentional infliction of emotional distress] in violation of the . . . laws . . . of any State."

Prosecutors alleged that the defendant violated MySpace's terms of use by using a fictitious name, thereby giving her no authority to access MySpace. However, the judge granted the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal. In granting the defendant's motion, the judge found that the absence of "minimal guidelines to govern law enforcement" as well as notice deficiencies made a misdemeanor violation of the CFAA based upon a "conscious violation of a website's terms of service" void for vagueness.[6]

Although much cyberbullying takes place in the "wired" world, more recently, these sorts of messages are being sent from and to mobile devices. Since many mobile devices are capable of performing the same tasks as computers, these messages are now being sent via mobile instant messaging, the mobile websites of social networking sites, and text messaging.

References Edit

  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, Cyberbullying (full-text).
  2. Dealing with Cyberbullies.
  3. Cyberbullying and the Non-consensual Distribution of Intimate Images, at 4.
  4. Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That, at 39.
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures, State Cyberstalking, Cyberharassment and Cyberbullying Laws (full-text).
  6. United States v. Drew, 259 F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (full-text).

See also Edit

External resources Edit

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