Criminal Punishment for Adolescent Cyberbullying
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is an act that can be used to refer to the use of mobile or internet technology to intimidate, harass, or cause harm to another individual. One has to note that although the problem of bullying is not new, the concept of bullying has moved from schoolyards to different social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Although there are no audible insults or physical contact, the problem of cyberbullying can be more traumatizing when compared to the traditional forms of bullying. This is because though social media and other forms of mobile communications, cyberbullying can thus be viewed by all of an individual’s family, friends, and acquaintances. This causes the shame or embarrassment to be more severe and has the potential of becoming more severe in the future. It is imperative to comprehend that there are various negative effects of cyberbullying. These impacts include significant emotional and psychological distress among the victims. Moreover, cyberbullied adolescents often experience fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Some of the adolescents who are cyberbullied may also struggle academically and experience physical symptoms. In extreme case, some adolescents who are cyberbullied end up committing suicides. There needs to be a form of legislation where cyber bullies are punished in that they comprehend what they are doing.
Currently, twenty states have enacted laws against cyber bullying. Of the twenty states, fourteen have criminal sanctions towards criminal cyberbullying. This shows that there are many individuals who feel strongly regarding the issue of cyberbullying especially with the case of Meghan Meier who was relentlessly harassed (Federman, 2017). Some people, however, have the notion that some of the laws enacted to deal with the issue of cyberbullying are harsh and have in some instances led to the situation whereby some individuals were unjust of harshly punished. Opponents of the introduction of cyberbullying legislation argue that the laws are too harsh and that cyberbullying has been made to an issue that is not. It is imperative to comprehend that there are truths behind the claims of the negative impacts of cyberbullying.
The other argument against the introduction of criminal cyberbullying laws is the probability of the laws being prone to overreach in ways that can be seen to violate the First Amendment in that the laws tend to result in the misdirection of prosecution powers, suppression of protected speech, and the misallocation of prosecutorial resources. The case of Justin Carter can be used as an example in this instance. The sentencing of Justin Carter to jail for more than five months and excessive bail money seems to be an instance where the criminal cyberbullying laws overreached. In fact, some of the criminal cyberbullying laws may essentially criminalize some forms of speech that are protected by the First Amendment, for example, the proposed cyberbullying laws in Indiana in 2003. This is because the proposed law would have prohibited adolescents or students from engaging in what is considered as “juvenile” acts. The other negative impact of the cyberbullying laws is that one has to deal with a criminal record if they are prosecuted. Some of the adolescents are not fully aware of the negative impacts that they can cause when they engage in cyberbullying. This thus begs the question, what should be done?
The legislation of cyberbullying would have immense impacts of adolescents only if the adolescents are well aware of the consequences that they have to face legally if some action is taken against them. I, however, believe that the use of preventive education in the bid to end cyberbullying amongst adolescents puts the responsibility to the adolescents to unplug. Students need to be taught how to deal with other students on different social media platforms (Benzmiller, 2013). Adolescents need to comprehend that when they encounter an incident of bullying online, they should ignore the bully. After some time, the bully gets bored and soon moves on.
The other strategy that can be implemented in the bid to prevent cyberbullies online is the use of telecom companies. It is the responsibility of the telecom companies to ensure that they assist in tracking and exposing the individuals who are responsible for bulling online. That way, the bullies are exposed and can no longer be the anonymous individuals behind the keyboards. Although it is, evident that finding the correct balance between laws and the intrusion of the First amendment, there is need to come up with laws that act as deterrents to the issue of cyberbullying. Moreover, there is need to act on the proposed act of criminalizing the issue of cyberbullying as an independent offense. The legislators, however, have to be careful in that the concept of cyberbullying can be wide and overreaching and may thus infringe on the First Amendment.
Preventive education is one of the key strategies that can be used to eliminate the problem of cyberbullying. This is because preventive education empowers the adolescents with strategies that can be used to deal with online negativity (Lidsky, 2012). The current criminal cyberbullying laws that have been enacted seem to be unjust since they seem to punish people in the bid to make an example out of them.
Benzmiller, H. (2013). THE CYBER-SAMARITANS: EXPLORING CRIMINAL LIABILITY FOR THE “INNOCENT” BYSTANDERS OF CYBERBULLYING. Northwestern University Law Review, 107(2), 927-962. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1372088389?accountid=27965
Federman, Eli “Bullying is Bad, But Criminalizing Bullying Would Be Even Worse” Retrieved from :https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/10/23/bullying-is-bad-but- criminalizing-bullying-would-be-even-worse/#4eacb8451446 (visited on 3/12/2017)
Lidsky, Lyrissa (06/22/2012). “How not to criminalize cyberbullying”. Missouri law review (0026-6604), 77 (3), p. 693.