Cyberbullying is defined as the use of modern communication technologies to embarrass, humiliate, threaten, or intimidate an individual in the attempt to gain power and control over them. The odd nature of this definition alone suggest some of the problems encountered by those who seek to combat cyberbullying; however, the first step is understanding the nature and existence of status quo cyberbullying as well as measures that can and should be taken against it.
The first contention is that current ways by which we handle cyberbullying are not sufficient and do not serve us as well as making it a criminal offense would. An essential point to understand is that cyberbullying is a wide-spread problem that requires the utmost attention. According to the NCPC (National Crime Prevention Center,) an estimated 43% of kids last year were in some form or another cyberbullied by another kid. A key factor that aides in spreading cyberbullying is the fact that the mediums by which it can travel are vast, ranging from the simple cellular phone with text to the Internet. While some may argue that this act can be prevented by keeping children away from these sources, this is simply impossible. With the presence of technology in every aspect of our lives, one is bound to encounter some form of it and put himself in harm’s way of cyberbullying. Furthermore, when the act of cyberbullying occurs, the words that have been can remain available and accessible for an indefinitely long period of time.
Continuing this train of thought, we see that the current statutes by which we discipline those guilty of cyberbullying are not sufficient. The majority of current legislation that handles cyberbullying such as in New York, Rhode Island, etc. has made schools the primary “caregivers” for these victims. According to the New York Times, “giving schools the responsibility of dealing with cyberbullying cases burdens them with off-campus problems.” While a school is a vital aspect in children’s lives, stretching its resources this thin will not be productive for victims and will instead spend countless hours that determine the outcome of the whole situation. Also, the majority of laws now covering cyberbullying are of the civil type, meaning they usually go to family courts. This means that lesser sentences are being given and the seriousness of the crime isn’t being taken to heart. Only four cases have been directly linked to cyberbullying. However, many others have had very similar cases, but have not been deemed as “cyberbullying” due to the lack of definition behind the act in the place where they are prosecuted.
On this note, we see that making cyberbullying a criminal offense would open to doors to more cases being heard and overall impacting the handling of the act easier. Making cyberbullying a crime could result in the overall deterrence of the act itself. According to a study done by Professor of Law Jeffrey Fagan of NYU, “by creating the proper law, a criminal offense can aide in lessening the potential of crimes being committed once again.” This means that if cyberbullying were made a criminal offense, the likelihood of someone to
cyberbully again would be lessened greatly. This is extremely important, for the majority of those who cyberbully once are likely to do so again. Also, by making it a crime, offenders are less likely to commit the act in the first place. While one might argue that even though we have laws and they are still broken, this still does not stand true for all cases. We should rather encourage the majority of people to not cyberbully in the first place than decline to act. By enacting this law, exactly this effect could be achieved.
The advantage of the current problem of overburdening schools is that a criminal offense charge would ensure that the proper authorities and resources are available to handle the problem. If made a criminal offense, the majority of power when handling cyberbullying would be given to the government rather than society. When put into the criminal justice system, more attention is given to the subject at hand. Rather than having a trial go through family court, it is instead handled by a larger scale court with
more resources at hand. Also, this would allow a lift on the burden that schools currently have placed on them for handling cases. While a school’s involvement is important to the process, the fact that we would now have a system outside the school environment to handle it would greatly aide in its deterrence. Furthermore, in a time where many schools are crunched for cash, making it a crime would relieve the financial burden placed on these schools that do not receive money for said programs the majority of the time.
Another major and misunderstood issue in cyberbullying is that many victims do not report the incidents; criminalizing the offense would increase the number of cases reported. According to a study by Wyoming Public Education System in 2005, 41.5% of kids claimed that
they would not tell an adult or supervisor of they were being cyberbullied. The main reason for this secrecy is the feeling that if they did tell the offender would continue to harass them. By making this law, we could ensure that those who commit the crime are punished, therefore saving victims before they go to extremes to resolve the problem. Also, making this a criminal offense would bring more awareness to the problem overall. When people are aware that there are now consequences for this action and that there are sources by which they can receive help, they are more confident in telling the truth as to reduce the problem.
Many of the current problems with cyberbullying involve the magnitude of the problem, the burden on schools, the insufficient penalties, and the lack of victim security. These have led to a veritable explosion of cyberbullying, and these issues must be rectified for the situation to be ameliorated.