Cyberbullying Law and Intervention

Defining Cyberbullying

Many people (the author included) conflate cyberbullying and cyberstalking. Both are forms of cyberharassment, but the National Conference of State Legislatures limits the term “bullying,” or “cyberbullying” to electronic harassment or bullying among minors in a school context.

In other words cyberbullying is K-12 electronic harassment, via instant messaging, email, chat rooms, websites, social media, online games, texting, and whatever other forms of electronic interaction are on the horizon.

It is only in very recent years that the two are being distinguished from each other. “Traditional” bullying is generally face-to-face, and as such is performed on the school ground or en route, in the park, or other places where a child is physically accessible to his or her tormentors, usually out of the home and usually during the day.

Cyberbullying, on the other hand, can be anonymous, can happen 24 hours a day, and is performed in more or less private places, including in the home. It’s a way to reach the victim when in an otherwise safe environment. Of course, the flip side is that it can be avoided, but at the cost of avoiding online social interaction – a large part of modern relationships, including childhood relationships.

Cyberbullying Laws

There are laws that apply to bullying and cyberbullying separately and together. As of 2015, California’s antibullying laws, much less anti-cyberbullying laws, and their enforcement leave much to be desired. Enforcement tends to be performed by school staff, when it is performed, or by parents when outside of school. It may be difficult for a teacher, whose primary goal is ostensibly to teach children, to have to also be an enforcer.

California passed the “Safe Place to Learn Act,” which took effect in 2008, which follows on the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. More than 200,000 students are harassed because they are or were perceived to be LGBT, and nearly 400,000 students are harassed because of their race. The purpose of the Act is to prevent violence, harassment, and discrimination due to these factors as well as disability, nationality, or association with any of the protected groups.

It is a kind of Civil Rights Act for kids in school. School personnel are required to intervene when they witness such acts, if it is safe to do so. Guidance, training, and the means for reporting out these incidents are provided to the schools with the aim toward achieving resolution of such occurrences.

The actual laws on the books in California are in the California Educational Code 234, 32261, 32265, 32270, 32282, 32283, and 48900 and cover all students, not just the aforementioned protected classes. Remedies include suspension and expulsion. Here again, guidance and processes are provided to the schools.

Cyberbullying Prevalence and Effects

In 2013, 15% – 25% of students reported having been cyberbullied, and about 90% of those had also been personally bullied, that is in-person, face-to-face, or “traditional” bullying. While cyberbullying is harmful, studies (Kowalski & Limber, and Hase, Goldberg, Smith, Stuck and Camoain, respectively of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern Oregon, for instance) show that, when controlled for in-person bullying, traditional bullying is more damaging than cyberbullying. Findings further show that cyberbullying does not seem to be particularly additive.

Still, the remaining 10% of the victims that had been exclusively cyberbullied accounts for an additional one million children falling prey via computer, so much harm is being done to this subset of numerous victims.

Given that bullying is defined as being between kids, the criminal justice system does not generally get involved. Unless the behavior rises to that of what is traditionally considered criminal behavior, such as behavior resulting in physical injury, threats of physical injury, or damage to or theft of property (all of which have been illegal for a long time), it is not really in the purview of law enforcement to get involved. In fact, it is often considered desirable to keep kids out of contact with the justice system unless it is necessary.

Therefore, the response to bullying and cyber bullying needs to come from the community – from peers, parents, programs & professors.

Parents, especially of younger children, need to monitor their kids’ online behavior and interactions. From the perspective of protection, it’s not an invasion of privacy for a parent to protect a youngster. Stationary computers should always have their displays turned toward an open door. Mobile devices need to be examined by parents on a regular basis.

Cyberbullying Resources

There is plenty of free guidance available online so you can become more active and educated on the subject, and help make children’s lives safer and more fair. Some of the resources can be found at:

Identifying the issue and addressing its causes by themselves assist in diminishing cyberbullying. Getting involved through some of the organizations listed above can help even more. But parents and guardians need to be vigilant. Their kids are going to school just like the generations before them, but they are also growing up in a virtual environment – one that we’ve probably learned to access, but but is a natural and integral part of youth social culture. We all need to get more informed and pay attention.

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