Of late, the concept of cyberbullying has been handled by many recent teen movies and books. Bullying and ragging have taken up the form of online psychological warfare, where people use cell phones, computers, the Internet, social networking sites, and blogs to bully, rag or in general malign the character or reputation of any person.
The governments of many countries have realized that cyberbullying is not just restricted to what could be termed as harmless school bullying. This phenomenon can have potentially grave implications. The high incidence in number of such crimes has prompted stated legislatures to take initiative in forming laws against cyberbullying.
In the following paragraphs, the concepts and general prevalence of cyberbullying, along with some legal implications and current laws have been discussed. Please note that this information is not legal advice and is a mere presentation of facts.
The common definition of cyberbullying, that is followed quite prominently in the United States is, 'the act of intentionally victimizing a person by the use of communications and information technology of any sort to torment, harass, assassinate the character of, disrepute, discredit, humiliate and embarrass the victim'. Cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and cyberharrassment are three closely related concepts, against which legal countermeasures have been taken.
Some states have passed individual legislation to curb stalking, bullying, and harassment. Others have laws that combine the three into one law. Cyberstalking and cyber-harassment are usually applicable to adults and the general public, whereas cyberbullying is mostly observed to be a juvenile phenomenon.
The need for legislature against this phenomenon is strong, as the National Crime Prevention Council reports that over 50% of youth and students are affected by it. Survey statistics show some disturbing figures. It was observed that 42% of kids have been bullied online, 35% have been threatened, and 21% have received e-mail threats. These are just a few of the many statistics.
Federal and State Cyberbullying Laws
The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, has been placed before the House of Representatives. State laws, like those in California, principally concentrate on cyberbullying among teens, juveniles, and university or college students. Other such unethical offenses are dealt with, by cyberstalking and cyber-harrassment laws. Here are a few examples:
- The state of Arkansas, in a 2007 legislation, gave educational institutions more power to take action against bullies, even if it is not committed within the school premises. Thus, any action by a student on the web or through any communication comes under the jurisdiction of the institute.
- The state of New Jersey has enacted several laws for the prevention of cyberbullying. In 2007, this state also gave wider jurisdiction to institutes, empowering them to take action against bullies, irrespective of whether the bullying has taken place on or off campus.
- Missouri experienced a very shocking case of 13-year-old Megan Meier's suicide, a victim of online bullying. The result was that cyber harassment is now considered to be a Class D felony, an Internet crime with a very harsh punishment.
- Vermont has been highly progressive in curbing the bullying problem. The already stringent laws have an additional fine of $500, plus a bill in progress, that aims at larger jurisdiction for the authorities and educational institutes.
- The state legislature of Idaho passed a law in 2006 that empowered educational institutes to take action and suspend any student, who is a cyberbully.
With the cyberworld becoming an increasingly integral part of our lives, it is very heartening to see legislation being passed to curb online harassment.