Why we should care about online taunting’s newest anti-social weapon “cyberbullying?”
Why indeed! More often than not the target is an adolescent. A youthful individual, driven to suicide or surviving the onslaught may exhibit any number of unfortunate coping mechanisms. The target should be considered a victim of a criminal act; very often committed by a classmate(s) or peer group. Even more troubling is the viciousness the disconnect social media lends to the cowards of the internet, “cyberbullies.” Suicide is the 2nd ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age – homicides ranked 3rd (Drapeau & McIntosh, 2015). Peer victimization in children and adolescents is associated with higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (JAMA Pediatrics, 2014).
You should care.
With the explosion of “social media,” it is not surprising that bullying has tagged along – the difference is the potential overwhelming reach of the internet. “One on one” bullying has morphed into peer group “cyberbullying” of a target victim. It is always used to inflict emotional distress on the target. The more distressed the target the more likely an emotional collapse or suicide, often a stated goal of the group. This behavior simply stated is the intentional infliction of emotional distress. A civil lawsuit should be considered as one method of combatting the behavior. It is critical to secure competent legal counsel that understands the nuances of cyberbullying, criminal law, and all civil remedies available.
An additional method to lessen this behavior is communicating to state lawmakers that your state enacts mandatory criminalization with minimum sentences. The sentences should be consistent with the nature and scope of the offending behavior. An additional consideration in criminalizing this behavior is target and victim impact. Whether the harm visited upon the target was specifically intended or not should be no defense to those who would hide behind the perceived cloak of anonymity. Hopefully tracking software will shrink any safe harbor and identify those culpable for this unlawful anti-social behavior. I have linked to a site that has a chart of all states and how they treat cyberbullying.
- 1006.147, Fla. Stat. (2013). has addressed the issue by focusing upon the educational disruption that occurs when students engage in this type of behavior. It has extended the school’s reach to police cyberbullying no matter whether done on school property or not. The statute focuses on victim impact rather location. The statute includes explicit language allowing schools to discipline students for their off-campus harassment that “substantially interferes with or limits the victim’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school or substantially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school.” Here is a link to the text of the statute.
Unfortunately, § 1006.147, Fla. Stat. (2013) is civil in nature and does nothing to add to any criminal penalties. Florida as in many other jurisdictions should criminalize this behavior.
The relative youth of a perpetrator should be viewed in the same way as other youthful offenders or young adults; there should be no trivializing the behavior even if the victim was never touched. We should care because the First Amendment while quite broad cannot be a safe harbor for speech with no other purpose but to harass, intimidate and mock.
If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, you have rights and need an experienced attorney to help you. The DRG firm is “here to help” 24/7 — 365 days a year. Call us anytime to discuss your case at 305-764-9907, or you may fill out our online case form. Free Consultation, fully confidential.
*By Marc Epstein, Esq.