Legislation to criminalize cyber-bullying, or to make bullying policies for the Department of Education, have fallen flat in recent years. Microsoft looked at statistics from 25 countries, and says of those, more than half of kids ages 8 to 17 admitted to being affected. Spokeswoman Jackeline Beauchere says most of them had not talked to their parents about the incidents.
However, the U.S. isn’t as bad as several other countries when it comes to bullying online. Beauchere says China reported the most incidents, 70 percent, followed by Singapore, India, Russia, Turkey and Argentina, which were also above that worldwide average of 37 percent. She says many more, 54 percent, worry about it regularly.
Twenty-nine percent of kids in the U.S. reported being bullied online.
Missouri made national headlines in 2007 when Megan Meier, an O’Fallon teenager, killed herself after being bullied online. Legislation in 2008 that made cyber bullying a crime was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. An opinion written by Chief Justice Ray Price said the language was too broad and it could implicate innocent people — such as Salvation Army bell ringers.
Price’s opinion said “Repeated,” “unwanted,” and “communicate” are simply words that can be applied too broadly…. individuals picketing a private or public entity would have to cease once they were informed their protestations were unwanted. A teacher would be unable to call a second time on a student once the pupil asked to be left alone. Salvation Army bell-ringers collecting money for charity could be prosecuted for harassment if they ask a passerby for a donation after being told, “I’ve already given; please don’t ask again.” An advertising campaign urging an elected official to change his or her position on a controversial issue would be criminalized. Read the entire opinion.
Rep. Sue Allen of Town and Country proposed anti-bullying legislation again this year, but time ran out to push the bill through. Her bill was mirrored by measures proposed by Rep. Sara Lampe of Springfield and Sen. Jolie Justus, Kansas City, both of which also were not moved up on the calendar for debate and passage.
Freedom of speech arguments and the difficulty in defining “bullying” have been concerns ever since the Supreme Court threw out the law passed in 2008.
Beauchere says defining cyber-bullying can be difficult, but that cyber-bullying is usually “kid on kid,” where when adults become involved, it’s termed as harrassment or stalking. Also, kids themselves struggle to identify it. She says some children refer to it as drama, or teasing, or ganging up on someone, or a slew of other terms.
Missouri KidsFirst says recognizing the signs and reporting the problem are key.
“The use of Internet technology, including cell phone text messaging, for the use of threatening and harassing others has become an increasing problem among school-age youth,” the organization says. “This technology allows instant and often non-deliberate communication. Because messages are not spoken face to face it can promote bravery and create a feeling of anonymity. Often the impact of cyberbullying, compared to the spoken word, can be more hurtful because of the feeling of permanency.”
Some of the warning signs that may surface from children who have become victims of cyberbullying are:
- Change in personality, lowered self-esteem
- Change in or loss of friends
- Drop in grades
- Secrecy about Internet activities
- Increased isolation
- Frequent request to stay home from school or visits to the school nurse’s office.
If parents or other responsible adults become aware that their child is being victimized online through email, chat rooms, social networking sites, or through text messaging on cell phones they should give the following advice to their child:
- DO NOT RESPOND TO THE MESSAGE. A response will only escalate the situation. If you don’t respond the sender will not know you got the message.
- Do not forward the message.
- Do not encourage others to do it and stand united against cyberbulling.
- Report the message to your school or police based upon the intent and content of the message. This includes harassing, derogatory or embarrassing statements, serious threats and/or repeated threats.
- Save the evidence.
- Report the cyberbullying online at abuse@(internet service provider).com or www.cybertipline.com
Missouri KidsFirst says parents can help protect their children online by reminding them that they should protect their name, identity and reputation. Remind them that what they post or send digitally about themselves, including photos or other images, can impact their future. This information can easily be copied or altered. Once information is in the digital world it is no longer private and you no longer own it.
Microsoft has a host of information on its website as well; go to http://www.microsoft.com/security/family-safety/online-bullying.aspx for more.