What is Cyberbullying and what about Cyberbullying Laws?
Cyberbullying is often described as a type of bullying that takes place using electronic media. These include devices such as cellphones, tablets, and computers as well as communication tools like chat messages, text messages, and social media sites.
The rise of cyberbullying is attributed to advancements in communication. In the past few decades, more and more people have gained access to different electronic technologies that make it possible to send anonymous messages. The emergence of social media sites has also made cyberbullying easier to perpetrate and harder for police.
Cyberbullying Laws, Facts and Statistics
Cyberbullying is a global phenomenon. According to the European Commission Survey in 2009, around more than 50% of Polish teens have been targeted by cyberbullies. In addition, about 34% of young people from Belgium and the UK have experienced the same. A memo drafted by the EU to campaign against cyberbullying defines how this is different and often more harmful than other forms of bullying. The memo states that cyberbullying:
- Enables young people to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet
- Allows messages posted to be seen by a wide audience instantaneously, unlike negative messages scrawled on the back of school books.
- Removes the fear of the youth of being punished for their actions. Thus, they do not feel any responsibility for their actions online.
- And, discourages victims to report incidents for fear of being deprived of their phones, computers and/or Internet access.
Reuters.com reported on the prevalence of cyberbullying in Japan. It stated that about 10% of high school students have been harassed through blogs, emails, or websites. In a country where over 90% of the youth have their own cell phones, the presence of cyberbullying is not that surprising.
In the US, it has been reported that 42% of kids have experienced bullying online while 53% admit to being perpetrators of mean or hurtful messages to another person via the Internet.
In the US, a summary prepared by Sameer Hinduja, PhD and Justin W. Patchin, PhD on State Cyberbullying Laws reports that while 50 states have laws against bullying and at least one existing cyberbullying law, only 18 states have definitive cyberbullying laws included. As of December 2013, five more states are proposing to add a cyberbullying law to their existing legislation.
In the state of California for example, AB 746 says that bullying can be dealt with in schools by punishing the person who is committing the bullying by suspending or expelling the student from school. This would also include bullying that is done electronically including posts on a social network or Internet website, in other words, this is a cyberbullying law.
Alternately, while cyberbullying as a term is not stated, Alabama’s policies include “electronic forms of bullying”. Such is the case with 29 other states without a cyberbullying law.
Federal laws do not have a definitive section for bullying and cyberbullying as they often overlap with existing discriminatory harassment policies. However, cyberbullying laws, bullying in electronic form, and corresponding criminal sanctions are currently being proposed in the federal arena. In the UK, there are several laws that can help protect an individual from being victimized by cyberbullying.
- According to the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, all state schools are mandated to have anti-bullying policies. Under the Education Regulations of 2003, independent schools are to have similar regulations as well.
- The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 have provisions for threatening behaviour or harassment that can encompass cyberbullying. However, specific laws against it have yet to be drafted.
- The Communications Act 2003 makes sending of offensive, indecent or menacing messages by public electronic communications networks a criminal offence.
Tips on Handling bullying with Cyberbullying Laws
The anonymity of the Internet has made monitoring menacing behaviour difficult. Even with the creation of laws on cyberbullying, there are still many challenges that face today’s youth when it comes to being maltreated online.
Most victims do not report being assaulted by others online. Parents have a responsibility to act on suspicions of cyberbullying. The first step is to educate kids about this phenomenon. The more they know about it, the more they will be wary of bad behaviour online.
Next, it is important that parents stay alert and look for warning signs that their children may be being victimized by cyberbullies. If they have become withdrawn or obsessive about Internet usage, then it may be time to speak with them about this.
Parents should also model appropriate behaviour when using the Internet. If their children witness them making snide comments about another person online, they might interpret this as normal behaviour and do the same.
Cultivating an open and honest line of communication between parents and children is the best way to counter or prevent cyberbullying. Having this connection will enable the child to speak up if he or she is either being bullied or participating in bullying someone online.