Cyberbully Victim Speaks Up At Public Hearing

These days, lots of people are talking about cyberbullying. School administrators rightfully wring their hands when students succumb to cyberbullies’ taunts. Psychologists do their best to explain and comfort when emotionally slain tweens and teens take their own lives. And media outlets mostly turn to adult anti-cyberbully spokespeople for reactions and quotes.

But it’s more rare to hear from the most important voices of this epidemic – bullied boys and girls.

At a recent cyberbullying panel discussion in Nevada, however, the pattern changed. Courageously, audience member Jesse Dawson, an 18-year-old whose arms bear the tell-tale signs of self-harm, stood up and told her story. Recognizing the importance (and rarity) of hearing from victims, people in attendance showered Dawson with questions, which she bravely bore and answered.

Dawson recounted her story of moving from a small town in Nevada, where she was mercilessly picked on for being overweight, to the big city, Las Vegas. She explained that she had hoped the harassment would stop once she moved away, but alas, her abusers continued the online onslaught. At that point she began to do poorly in school – acting out and cutting class.

Luckily, however, someone at her new school recognized that bullied kids tend to act out. School officials provided free counseling. And now, thankfully, Dawson is doing better – and perhaps most importantly, feeling better.

Remember everyone, it’s important to listen to the victims of cyberbullying before it’s too late.

New Jersey’s Proposed Cyberbullying

The New Jersey Senate is considering a law that would criminalize cyberbullying.

Bill S2469 would create a new crime category in New Jersey called “cyberharassment”. The new law would make it a crime to use electronic devices and online social media sites to injure or threaten someone, including the sending of obscene material to or about a person. The statutory penalties would be up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000; plus, if it was done by an adult over 21 impersonating a minor, the penalties would be increased to a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. If the offender was a minor aged 16 or under, under the proposed law, he or she could be required to participate in mandatory training designed to curtail bully behavior.

In early 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed an anti-bullying law widely considered to be the toughest in the country. Under that law, New Jersey requires training for most public school employees on how to identify bullying and provide for complaint review teams at schools. However, by the end of 2013, more than half the states already have cyberharassment statutes on their books.(http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/cyberstalking-and-cyberharassment-laws.aspx)

There is some concern that, as written, the proposed New Jersey bill may infringe free speech by being too vague and too broad. While a clear-cut example of its intended purpose of malicious bullying may be an easy test case, the same law could be used claiming “indecent” “harassing” speech to quell a well-intentioned citizen post about a politician, for example; that needs to clearly fall outside the written language of the bill.

Whether it is S2469 — or a new and improved version, it appears New Jersey may be joining the ranks of those states that are trying to change some of our worst behavior and impose consequences on cyberbullying and harassment.

Canada’s Proposed Cyberbully Law Is Controversial

During National Bullying Awareness Week Canadian lawmakers announced a new cyberbullying bill, but critics aren’t jumping for joy because the bill is freighted with provisions that have nothing to do with cyberbullying, like terrorism and cable theft.

About the Proposed Canadian Cyberbullying Law

The goal of the propsed Canadian cyberbullying law, says Peter MacKay, is to close a gap in current legal code. As it stands, there is no easy way to handle cyberbullying that involves online transmissions. Once an image is uploaded online, there is no way to stop its propagation. When an image is posted on a publicly visible website, it’s often archived remotely. Any number of people can save the image to personal drives or re-host it on other sites. Often, the original uploader loses control over it. Worse, attempts to scour the image off the Internet typically lead to further reposts.

Even an image specifically messaged via SMS from one party to another can be re-sent, distributed and reposted. A single private photo first makes its way to other “interested parties,” who share it and share it until it “goes viral”. Unfortunately, currently there is no legal way to deal with this kind of viral explosion in popularity.

The new legislation, if it becomes law, grants the police additional powers in cyberbullying cases. Police will be able to seize computers, phones, tablets and other digital devices in order to stop the propagation of offending content and assist in its removal.

If passed, the law will require police to obtain warrants and maintain close oversight on the process, to minimize potential risks and misuses.

Valid Criticism

The primary criticism of the law is its breadth. It’s stated aim is to stop cyberbullying, which is a noble cause. Critics of the law point out, however, that draft bill provisions go far beyond cyberbullying. One cited example is its ability to stop people who are found to steal cable signals.

Under the draft law, anyone accused of sending an intimate image without the recipient’s consent can face five years in prison. Additionally, the proposed statute gives police more power to track and monitor terror suspects. The same law allows the same level of monitoring of suspects who use software to crack the encryption on wireless or cable TV signals in order to watch without being charged.

Comparisons have been drawn between C-13 and abandoned bill C-30. C-30 was a similar proposal aimed at protecting people from, and limiting the distribution of, child pornography. The bill was abandoned, not because of any flaw in its premise, but in the way it handled its process. C-30 allowed police unlimited access to private customer information from Internet service providers — without a warrant. Public outcry and privacy concerns forced the abandonment of C-30, and a similar outcry may sink C-13.

The government claimed to abandon C-30 fully, stating any further modernization of the criminal code will not include provisions included in C-30. Yet the government seems to be including very similar provisions in C-13.

Data and Metadata

Every phone call, text message or digital communication includes two things: data and metadata. The data is simple; it is the content of the call. The text sent in a text message is the data. The metadata is all of the other information necessary for digital communication. It includes what devices are involved in the communication, such as phone models. It includes geographic locations of the sender and recipient. Granting access to this information without a warrant is the primary concern of public watchdogs.

The issue with this bill, and previous bills such as C-30, is not in the proposed intent. Something does need to be done about the aging criminal code that lacks the powers to handle modern cyberbullying, child porn and other digital issues. The issue may not even lie in what is included in the bill. With judicial oversight and required warrants, obtaining digital metadata is not unfounded.

The problem with many of proposed cyberbully bills is the omnibus nature of their provisions. This bill, C-13, does not include a handful of small provisions to stop cyberbullying. Rather, it includes a large number of provisions and expansions in power that, on their own, may be abused. Several different points which warrant debate are lumped into one bill and advertised under one purpose. The government hopes, perhaps, to pass these provisions under the heading of a benevolent cause.

The aging criminal code is not the only issue with legislation like C-13. Perhaps the aging perspective of current representatives is at fault. There is no doubt that laws need to be created to handle these modern situations and digital crimes, but without a digital perspective, the laws simply look like transparent attempts to expand police powers.

Oneida County Cyberbullying

If you’re a cyberbully victim in Oneida County, New York, then you may be able to take your perpetrator to court in the near future. In November, the Oneida County Board passed a law prohibiting cyberbullying. Under the new statute, people caught in the act face penalties. A hearing is set for Tuesday, and the law will most likely go into effect after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Anthony Picente is the Oneida County Executive who muct decide whether to sign the law. Picente has already indicated he will wave it through after the hearing on Tuesday. Picente stated the new law will be a tool that will be a helpful tool to deter cyberbullying. He;s hopeful it will help prevent the tragic results that often stem from cyberbullying.

The law was put forth by a legislator named Harmony Speciale. According to its provisions, people who are caught cyberbullying can be required to pay a fine that ranges from $500 to $1,000 once this new law takes effect. They may also be required to spend up to one year in jail.
The offense, which is characterized as displaying or publishing images or words with the intent to intimidate or abuse another person, will be an unclassified misdemeanor. Below are examples of actionable items punishable under the new cyberbullying law:

• Creating a fake profile or website.

• Posting doctored or real images of another person without his or her consent.

• Using the Internet to make slandering statements about another person with the intent to harass or bully them. It does not matter whether the statements are true or false.

• Using a computer for ongoing or repeated emails or other types of communications.

Robert Maciol is the sheriff of Oneida County who believes that the harsh penalties for cyberbullying will help deter the behavior. He likes the new law – especially since his department has been unable to prosecute cyberbullies in the past due to a lack of law making it illegal.

Howard Mettelman is the superintendent for BOCES Oneida-Herkimer-Madison. He will start working with students soon and informing them of this new law.

New Zealand Cyberbullying

The New Zealand Parliament recently got their first look at a new cyberbullying proposal called the Harmful Digital Communications Bill. If it passes, cyberbullying in New Zealand will become a criminal offense, punishable by up to 3 months in jail or a $2,000 fine. Specifically, it will outlaw the “posting of material online with the intent to harm.” In addition, the bill creates a new criminal charge called “incitement to commit suicide.”

New Zealand’s Law Commission hopes the “proposed law will give young people an effective forum for help.”

While New Zealand is taking the right step on anti-Cyberbullying street, the proposed punishments open the door for socio-economic inequities. The way the law is worded now would result in wealthy kids simply having mom and dad pay a fine, whereas kids from financially strapped homes will have to spend three months behind bars. Something about that doesn’t seem quite fair.

Click here to read about New Zealand’s new cyberbullying law proposal.

Cyberbully In Florida Says She Doesn’t Care Victim Committed Suicide

All cyberbullying is horrendous, but every once in a while, a case comes along that sends extra shivers down your spine. An online harassment incident in Florida is one such chilling example.

Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old, killed herself by jumping off of a power utility tower after being brutally cyberbullied. The ringleader was 14-years-old and recruited many of the other girls at the school to join in her cruelty. According to reports, the root of the harassment was a boy.

One month after the heartbreaking suicide, the 14-year-old cyberbully announced online that she was responsible for the online harassment. Shockingly, the teen also said she did not care that Sedwick killed herself.

Like I said, chilling.

Upon receiving the information, law enforcement officials in the state took action. Worried about recidivism on the part of the cyberbully, police arrested the minor. Those at the scene said she was “very cold” when taken into custody.

Cyberbullying is serious, dangerous business. If your family has been affected, you can take legal action in some jurisdictions. If you want to talk to a lawyer about your options, get in touch.