Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cyberbullying: A Legal Milestone

All over the Internet this afternoon is this story about a British man who won a libel suit in the U.K. against a former friend who created and published an imposter profile on Facebook in order to humiliate and intimidate him. Congratulations!

Cyberbullying, in all of its forms, is a terrible problem and is on the rise!

My son has been the victim of a similar cyberbullying stunt orchestrated by some classmates at his middle school. Two boys created an imposter Myspace profile including his photo and other personal details in order to harass and intimidate him. Upon deeper exploration, we uncovered an entire network of bullies being managed by middle school children in our community, existing only for the purpose of hurting classmates.

To make matters worse, no system was evolved enough to remedy this situation. To date, there are no laws in the U.S. that protect our kids (and their identities) when they are being harassed and bullied on the Internet. The perpetrators believe they have the upper hand and think nothing can happen to them if they are caught. Ask any middle school student about cyberbullying and they will know it happens, who the victims and who the bullies are, and that it continues because there are no policies in place to prevent or punish. We received a very rich e-mail from one of the 13 year old perpetrators of the harassment against my son—IN ALL CAPS—threatening us to “back off or else” and how her actions were protected by free speech.

There is a growing movement of parents, educators, legislators, and law enforcement officials taking an interest in the issue of cyberbullying. We are trying to have a hearty dialogue about the severity of the issue and we are trying to create meaningful policy to protect victims and punish perpetrators. Hopefully this legal victory in the U.K. will have some value in the U.S.

Become informed!