Know Your Rights on Cyberbullying

By Ashley Morris and Jessica Moore

As a recent spate of teen suicides so sadly proves, American teens are locked in a bullying crisis. Do you know your legal rights if you’re being bullied?

In a state with a strong law against bullying, such as Massachusetts, bullying includes, “acts or threats conducted by any device that transfers signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic or photo-optical system.” This means cyberbullying is a crime and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.  Bullypolice.org offers a full explanation of each state’s laws on bullying and indicates whether each state considers cyberbullying communication a criminal offense.

The National Crime Prevention Council notes that teens believe cyberbullies find their actions funny, don’t think their bullying is a big deal, and don’t worry about the consequences. With cyberbullying at the root of a spate of teen suicides, teens need to know that these points are disastrously false.

Cyberbullying: What you need to know

  • If someone is cyberbullying you on a social network or website, you have the right to report them. Wiredsafety.org provides a cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and harassment  report form to help stop online bullying.
  • Find out about your school’s legal authority.  It can be difficult for schools to discipline bullying that occurs off school grounds. StopCyberbullying.org suggests working to see if a provision can be added to your school’s policies if there are strict on-campus discipline laws.
  • Get familiar with IP addresses. An IP address is a number that identifies a computer on the internet and can be used to locate and prove an individual is bullying you. For more information on IP tracking, go to StopCyberbullying.org.
  • Saving evidence of your bully’s online threats is important; Internet Service Providers often discard online information that could incriminate an online perpetrator (such as online chat communication).

What you can do to delete cyberbullying

The National Crime Prevention Council offers these guidelines for preventing cyberbullying:

  • Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages
  • Tell friends to stop cyberbullying
  • Block communication with cyberbullies
  • Report cyberbullying to a trusted adult

In August, New York passed a new anti-bullying law, the Dignity for All Students Act, which will help the state move toward a school environment free of discrimination and bullying. This is a big step for New York, but there are still states that have little or no legal authority against bullying (Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota).  Every effort makes a difference, so make sure you write to your state and local senators to push for anti-bullying laws in these states.

Do your part to prevent bullying before this crisis becomes even more widespread.

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One response to “Know Your Rights on Cyberbullying

  1. The past week has been filled with some of the saddest news I’ve heard dealing with teen/young adult suicides and cyberbullying. I’ve seen how people act in many internet forums and chatsites, and it’s pretty evident that they feel a sort of anonymity and safety with hiding behind a computer screen. However, words that are typed from an unfamiliar username can be just as hurtful as if they were screamed at someone across the room. I’ve also been told the whole “its just the internet, why get upset?” train of thought. Words are words whether they’re typed, written, spoken, signed, smoke signaled, etc. Words hold weight, some of which can be more harmful than any physical assault ever could. Its our place as we get older, to teach our friends, siblings, and other teenagers how to access help in these situations.

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