Cyberspace and the Law: What Are Our Rights and Responsibilities?
Today much of the Internet audience is children and adolescents. They actively use Internet environment for educational and gaming purposes, and often forget that the Internet space besides interesting dialogue and useful information has also a threat.
Studies by American psychologists have shown that the majority of people over 35 years are rather passive and indifferent to any insults or public criticism expressed in the Internet. Young people, on the contrary, are very sensitive to such harassment (Kowalski, Limber & Agatston, 2008).
Cyberbullying has some features that make its consequences very serious. It affects the victim seven days a week, 24 hours a day, leaving no time and space where a person could feel secure.
An attack of cyberbullying can be very painful and sudden. Since e-mail is very difficult to monitor and filter, the victim gets them unexpectedly, which leads to a strong psychological impact.
The person using cyberbullying is anonymous. The child does not know who pursues him, and tends to exaggerate the danger. Therefore, the anonymity of pursuers makes an impact of bullying particularly strong.
But cyberbullying is well-documented. A feature which allows to effectively combat this phenomenon is the fact that all acts of cyberbullying leave traces on the network that can be documented and used as evidence.
The first case of cyberbullying was recorded in 2002. American teenager Ghislaine Raza shot a video for fun in which he, like the hero of the movie Star Wars, fenced with a baseball bat instead of a laser sword. Classmates posted the video on the network in order to make fun of Ghislaine. This record was seen by millions of people, in a few days a special website with the original video and parodies of it was created. Taunts broke Ghislaine’s psychic and his parents were forced to address to a psychiatrist. As a consequence, a lawsuit was filed against classmates who posted the original video on the Internet.
The range of goals of cyber-pursuers is wide, but all share a desire to cause psychological damage to the victim. In some cases it can be jokes to just wound the victim, whereas in the others it may be psychological terror that will lead to suicide.
Kylie Kenney was forced to change the school several times because of the site Corporation “Kill Kylie”, which made her position with incriminating information publicly accessible, and in the end she had to go to home schooling.
16-year-old Jed Presto did not go out of the house and tried to kill himself after the conflict with the guys from his school. They began to terrorize the teenager by night calls, spreading rumors online, sending offensive SMS-messages (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010).
However, problems such as impersonating another person online and cyberbullying attracted public attention after the suicide of 13-year-old girl. She was in the guise of a 13-year-old boy on MySpace intimidated by the mother of one of girl’s friends, about which she was allegedly spreading rumors. A woman was charged with an administrative offense, but a federal judge found her not guilty (Zetter, 2008).
In the state of Missouri, in 2008, a law was introduced against cybermobbing, which was caused by a suicide of teenager, which had a wide public response.
In the state of New Jersey, as a result of a student’s suicide, strict laws were adopted against mobbing in schools and universities. In spring 2011, at the White House in Washington, DC anti-mobbing summit was conducted. At the meeting, representatives of Facebook explained that in the future they plan to create a department of mediation in disputes (Stop Cyberbullying Before It Starts, 2012).
Cyberbullying became a hot topic of concern to government agencies, families and teachers, especially in relation to the increasing suicide incidence among teenagers. Many countries have taken steps to a public policy (programs for the prevention of digital risks, information campaigns, training of teachers).
Since 2007, in the United States, by the initiative of the Ministry of Education periodic campaigns against cyberbullying are conducted. They usually involve services such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, YouTube, a number of cellular companies and psychologists.
Moreover, since 2009, in some states, teachers were allowed to take away the children’s mobile phones, if they take photo or video of anything in class. To American schools were also sent out a special guide on preventing cyberbullying. It describes how to act to remove from the online offensive material, no matter where it was placed.
However, it soon became clear that all of these measures are incomplete and do not bring adequate results. Whereas in the U.S., a special program called The Fight Crime: Invest In Kids was developed to combat bullying technology. The creators of the program defined cyberbullying as “the use of electronic devices and information technology, such as e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, mobile communication, websites that can be used to post violent or offensive messages about a person or group of individuals”. Psychologists in their reports have focused on the fact that teenagers are particularly susceptible to such ridicule (Dooley, Pyzalksi & Cross, 2009).
In the state of Arizona, House of Representatives of the Legislative Assembly approved a bill according to which all abuse appeared on the Internet would be considered a crime. Now the document with the basic principles of the new law should be applied for the Governor's signature.
The future law aims to ban the use of “electronic and digital devices to intimidate, threaten, harass, or annoy” (Stop Cyberbullying Before It Starts, 2012). The document itself contains a fairly large number of concepts that are not supported from a legal perspective such as “obscenity” and “blasphemy”. However, with all this uncertainty in order to attract people to justice, it is not necessarily even a statement of “victim” that they feel offended or frightened.
The bill has already managed to acquire a large number of opponents, who say that the law can realistically be applied to absolutely any statement, which the authorities deem objectionable.
American coalition of media sphere employees (Media Coalition), set up to protect the First Amendment, has already sent a letter to Governor Brewer asking him not to sign the bill. Union’s representatives consider attempts of implementation of the bill not only as a violation of human rights and freedoms but also frank “absurd”.
Moreover, many have noticed the fact that the law can be considered a supplement to the existing similar law, which prohibits the same actions on the phone. Thus, in Arizona now a new bill is prepared, which will be designed to allow parents to read SMS-messages of their minor children (Stop Cyberbullying Before It Starts, 2012).
The agreement on the adoption of the law is reached between the leaders of the Senate and the Assembly and Governor Cuomo. Cyberbullying, according to Bill, is defined as harassment, abuse, ridicule or humiliation, and threats sent through social media. However, the bill does not include the more serious criminal charges related to actions that lead to suicidal adolescents. A series of cases of abuse and public humiliation led to a series of suicides among teenagers.
The law requires schools to appoint an official responsible for the actions in the fight against cyberbullying, coordination with the police and the development of strategies to combat this growing scourge. What is more, training of school personnel is envisaged to detect cyberbullying and counteract it.
Many lawmakers have resisted the introduction of the law under which the prosecution was conducted to teenagers who use such cruel methods. However, Senator Klein insisted on the inclusion of criminal charges in the bill. Democrats from the Bronx and Westchester announced that New York City has a chance to lead the country in the fight against this growing national problem. Cuomo said that cyberbullying is in the center of measures to improve school education and development of children.
According to the National School Safety Center, the number of students from 12 to 18 years undergoing bullying decreased from 32 to 28% - high enough numbers. However, the number of those who were subjected to cyberbullying increased from 4 to 6%. Due to the Internet, it becomes more and more popular. Apparently, often publicly humiliated children rush from balconies and roofs, under the bus and train (Beran & Li, 2011).
The law of New York came into force on the dignity of all students - Dignity for All Students Act. The law requires school districts to find ways to stop harassment of children. Schools will have to teach at least one employee anti-bullying methods and to adopt rules to help staff become familiar with forms of discrimination and harassment.
Internet psychologists say that cyberbullying is purely an age phenomenon, and the best solution for it are not some social interventions, but the internal and systematic development in adolescents sense of autonomy, independence, “own opinion”, knowledge and confidence in their forces.
Thus, this will help them not only in such situations of online harassment, but also in the adult life, where the ability to take responsibility and maintain a healthy self-esteem will be valuable for them. Otherwise, if the internal maturation does not come, relapses of fragile ego will continue to pursue such person in their adolescence, which, of course, can be manifested not only in the Internet, but also in any other close social interaction.
In this regard, a law adopted in the state of New York, to a lesser extent is in conflict with the First Amendment among the law of other states regarding cyberbullying. The introduction of legislative responsibilities for teachers to monitor the situation in the school against cyberbullying, and recruitment of a special psychologist in schools are currently a high priority. When taking these steps, there can be more positive and practical results than the protracted discussions over the issue of cyberbullying and freedom of speech and compliance of criminalized cyberbullying with the Constitution.