A Lawyer’s View of Cyberbullying

When Mike Misanelli, a Philadelphia radio host, Tweeted Sunday, “Hey Giants fans, Victor Cruz is over. Dance to that,” many Giants’ fans started calling for Misanelli’s job.
Heeeeelzfan Tweeted, “Hopefully, we’ll be hearing soon from management at 97.5, ‘Mike Misanelli is over.’”
Misanelli’s tweet, sent when Giants’ player Victor Cruz was injured, stirred a vigorous online debate that quickly turned into a discussion of cyber-bullying.
Misanelli’s tweet may not rise to the level of what is traditionally considered to be cyber-bullying, but it did create a conversation and an opportunity to look at the latest form of bullying made possible by technology.

Cyberbullying is making use of technology to harass, threaten or verbally abuse and/or humiliate another person. Often, it can rise to the scope of cyber-stalking, a crime.
Over 15 percent of high school students claim to have been cyberbullied and 6 percent of the students in middle school say they have been on the receiving end of cyber-bullying.

Background
Some people find it humorous to post embarrassing images of a friend. The consequences are anything but laughable. From the victim’s perspective, it is impossible to remove the image and if the content goes viral, no one has any control of it. Victims of cyber-bullying may succumb to low self-esteem, isolation and school or job problems.

The perpetrator can suffer consequences as well. In this digital age, that posted image may just show up in a screening when they apply for college or a job. The bully may also be charged with a crime if sexual content was involved and the bully will have to register as a sex offender. Those are the kind of things that don’t disappear when the laughter stops.

Social Effects
Normally, bullies tend to pick on socially isolated people with few friends. Cyber-bullies tend to attack close friends or even people in a comparable social network. The result of the cyber-bulling can make a person feel isolated from their friends as well as make it difficult to enter a romantic relationship.

Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officials frequently have a difficult time in determining their role in dealing with bullying. Social networking and advances in communication tools complicate the issue. Historically, bullying happened inside, or close to, a school or neighborhood. Technology allows today’s bullies to extend their reach and their threat.

FBI Survey
Law enforcement officers assigned to schools will almost certainly encounter some form of cyber-bullying. A survey of law enforcement leaders attending the FBI National Academy (FBINA) in Quantico, Virginia showed that 94 percent of SROs feel that cyber-bullying is a serious problem that calls for law enforcement’s intervention. Seventy-eight percent said they had conducted one or more investigations into cyber-bullying the previous school year.

Notable Cases
A middle school boy, in 1998, created a website that threatened his algebra teacher and his school principal. According to a white-paper, published by Bucknell University, the school permanently expelled the student due to the threats and harassment.
Another case happened in 2003 when a 14 year old male received unwanted Internet attention. A video showing the boy dressed in a Jedi knight costume went viral. The boy was attacked by classmates who encouraged him to kill himself.

Suicide Resulting from Cyberbullying
In 2006, a girl named Megan Meier, committed suicide after a classmate, and the classmate’s mother, created a fake online persona and used the account to send hateful comments to Meier. Federal prosecutors took on the case and tried the mother-daughter team. A jury found the mom guilty of a single felony count of conspiracy and three misdemeanor counts of unauthorized computer use. On appeal, judges later acquitted the mother of the convictions.

Jessica Logan committed suicide in 2008 after nude images of her were circulated by students in Cincinnati. Logan’s family was awarded a settlement of over $150,000 in 2012. Ohio legislators later passed a law encouraging Ohio schools to increase teacher training in an effort to combat cyber-bullying. The law was called The Jessica Logan Act.

Prevention and Repercussions
Following the Columbine massacre in 1999, anti-bullying statues became widespread. States have continued to pass laws that require districts to establish, and follow, strict policies about cyber-bullying. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states passed anti-bullying laws between 2005 and 2010. Now, when cyber-bullying includes a threat of violence, stalking, sexually-explicit photos or messages it rises to criminal behavior. Victims should file a report with local law enforcement.

About the author
Arkady Bukh is a nationally recognized attorney from New York who represents clients on high-profile cases, like Boston Marathon Bombings or famous cyber crime cases. Arkady is also a published author and contributor to NY/NJ Law Journal, LA Daily Journal, Law 360, Westlaw, Thomson Reuters, Nolo, and many other media. More

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