Laws on cyber bullying are starting to evolve to address a growing problem in schools but not fast enough.
Every day, the great tools and technology that allow a level of communication that is numbered and seen in history are used by bullies to attack their victims.
Unfortunately, the number of incidents around the country continues to increase while the laws on cyber bullying do not.
As a result, there have been a number of awareness campaigns to educate the public about the problem, to propose solutions and try and create laws on cyber bullying.
A Growing Problem
Recently, a substantial amount of research has been conducted to determine the scope and severity of cyber bullying in modern society. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 50% of minors in the United States claim that they have at some point been a victim. Close to 70% occurs on instant messaging services like Skype and Facebook messaging.
In many cases, the problem is an invisible one to parents. According to a survey by I-Safe.org of kids in grades 4 to 8, 58% reported that they did not tell an adult about something hurtful that was said to them online.
The bullies themselves often hide behind the anonymity of the internet. Unlike “normal” bullying, where it is possible in just about every case to identify the bully, when it comes to cyber bullying, it is often times difficult or impossible to identify the perpetrator.
Cyber bullying is different than cyber stalking and cyber harassment. Generally speaking, the former involves two or more minors whereas the latter involves an adult. Because it involves minors, laws on cyber bullying are tricky to craft and implement.
Current Status of Laws on Cyber Bullying
Right now, there is no clear cut legislation which addresses the problem of cyber bullying. Some argue that a federal statutes which prohibits the use of electronics to “coerce, intimidate, harass or cause other substantial emotional distress” covers cyber bullying; however to date, no individual has ever been prosecuted by this law.
Because of the ambiguity in the law, there has been legislative action at the local, state, and federal levels to address the problem and create more direct laws on cyber bullying. Legislation related to it has been passed in California, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas, and Washington. Most of these laws, such as the legislation in Washington, give power to schools to take disciplinary action against cyber bullies. Florida goes so far as to withhold funding for schools that do not adequately discipline cyber bullies.
Concerns About the Free Speech of Minors
There have been attempts to pass legislation and laws on cyber bullying at the federal level as well. The balance that legislatures have been attempting to find is the one between protecting the victims while at the same time protecting the free speech rights of minors. Federal courts have attempted to weigh in on this issue. In cases like United States v. Baker, the courts have generally ruled in favor of Internet freedom speech, but have not ruled specifically on the constitutionality of strong laws on cyber bullying because currently no such law exists.
The lack of a federal law has proven problematic in prosecuting cases. For example, when Tyler Clementi committed suicide after a video of a homosexual encounter was broadcast on the Internet, prosecutors could not prosecute the offenders on the grounds of cyber bullying. Instead, they had to use other legal avenues like invasion of privacy when they brought the case to court.
In spite of the problems of cyber bullying and a growing national attention, legislation that directly target cyber bullying has not passed Congress. Detractors have blocked bills such as the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act due to free speech concerns.
Therefore, the current state of cyber bullying is very much up in the air. While there are laws at the state and local levels, federal legislation has not passed. This legal ambiguity will undoubtedly clear up in the coming years as more and more cases encourage laws on cyber bullying.
Additional High School Mediator articles about bullying and the laws on cyber bullying.
Latest statistics (pdf file) about state laws on cyber bullying.