Remember the good old days when bullies were easy to identify? There were your typical types: the kid hanging out near the cafeteria waiting to steal your lunch money or the cool kids smoking in the bathroom waiting to give you a swirly when you walked in. It’s no surprise that with the dawn of the new age (the age of technology) bullying has a new face, or lack thereof. Cyber bullying has become the hip new way to torture others. No matter where you go, what you do, your bully follows you. The worst part? You may never find out who your bully actually is.
Cyber bullying is defined as being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material using the Internet or any other electronic device (Blackberry, cell phone etc..). Cyber bullying differs from traditional bullying because with the use of modern technologies bullies can harass their targets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The face of your bully may never be known because bullies are able to remain anonymous online. Also, lack of parental monitoring over modern technologies makes it tricky for bullies to be caught. There are many obstacles in stopping cyber bullies namely: the lack of laws and freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. This article will identify the types of speech that are not protected and can lead to prosecution.
Instead of a few kids at school harassing their favorite targets in the halls or the cafeteria cyber bullying allows bullies to post nasty messages all the time. These tormentors can also create websites about their targets for the world to see online. With the use of cell phones and computers kids can be connected anytime, anywhere, which also means their persecutors have the unique ability to follow them everywhere they go. Sixteen-year-old “Shelia” describes being at her grandmother’s house for the weekend and upon logging onto her AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) account. She was immediately flooded with vulgar messages accusing her of sleeping with boys she didn’t even know.
Cyber bullying is often described as a ‘cowardly’ form of bullying because the tormentor can remain anonymous online. Online the wimpiest kid can become the biggest bully because there are no consequences for their actions. These high tech harassers believe that they can’t be held accountable for the things that they post online because online messages are often difficult to trace. Many bullies are unwilling to accept punishment even when they are found out, claiming that it wasn’t them and hiding behind the possibility that someone else could have logged in under their screen name.
The anonymity of online activity allows people to feel uninhibited thus causing many people to act in ways they never would face to face. A 2007 survey conducted by Media Awareness Network found that 60% of students aged 13-18 had pretended to be someone else online. Of the students who pretended to be someone that they weren’t, 17% of them did so because they could say mean things and get away with it.
Cyber bullying is unique because unlike traditional bullying that would have to wait until a parent wasn’t present to witness the attack. Cyber bullying can be done in private. Computers are often in teenagers’ rooms, text messages can be sent via cell phone faster than a blink of an eye. It’s nearly impossible to monitor all the technology available to teenagers.
The two main obstacles in stopping cyber bullying are lack of laws and the delicate balance between free speech and harassment. Currently there are no laws against cyber bullying. Schools have policies on bullying that encompasses written or verbal harassment but only during school hours. Many schools are hesitant to pass policies on cyber bullying because it could be viewed as impinging on student’s First Amendment rights. In this case, the First Amendment is a double-edged sword- it protects speech but it limits school’s ability to place restrictions on “free” speech.
However, there are several types of speech that are not protected under the first amendment. The following types of speech can lead to arrest and prosecution.
* Engaging in Coercion – Trying to talk someone into something that they do not want to do.
* Threats – Sending someone messages threatening to do harm to them.
* Hate Crimes – Based on race, ethnicity, religion or gender orientation.
* Creating or Sending Someone Sexually Explicit Material or Messages – this includes text, pictures and graphics.
* Sexual Exploitation – Taking a photo of someone where privacy is expected (in a bathroom, locker room etc..)