At the end of 2011 there were still very few cyberbullying laws on the books, anywhere in the United States. Of course the issue with these types of laws always comes down to our First Amendment Right to freedom of speech. But in dragging out feet to protect freedom of speech we’re allowing innocent kids to literally perish at the hands of cyberbullies who know the actions will go unpunished.
Right now, as it stands, those states that do have any laws against cyberbullying will only charge offenders with an unclassified misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of only $1,000 or a year in jail. When you consider the fact that in 2010 there were 34 children in the United States who committed suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying, that small $1000 fine is an egregious insult. And since most cyber bullies are minors, the punishments will be even less.
Current proposals before state legislatures call for a broader definition of cyberbullying or a broader definition of bullycide. On the other side of the coin they’re asking for narrower definitions so they don’t step on anyone’s right to free speech.
And therein lies the problem, really. It took years for states and the federal government to come to terms they could all agree on in relationship to hate crimes. We can’t afford that wait when the victims of cyberbullies are our children. We need to act now.
A lot of this harassment occurs on sites like Facebook. No. Let’s not use the word ‘Like’. That’s too passive-aggressive. Let’s point fingers here and say – Most of this cyberbullying that’s resulting in bullycide is occurring on Facebook. While Facebook has taken measures to try to detect and eliminate cyberbullying it still has a long way to go.
As parents, we need to be pro-active. We can’t wait for the legal system to catch up. By then, how many more children will die?
We need to demand even stricter controls at Facebook. Facebook needs to accept responsibility for the monster they’ve created and put stronger controls in place – now. If it hurts Facebook’s pocketbook, so be it. Our children’s lives are at stake.
We need to talk to our children. In 2011 more than 1 million teenagers were harassed or threatened on Facebook. Yet only 1 in 6 of those teens let their parents know there was something going on. We need to let our children know that they can come to us the minute, the very MINUTE they receive that first harassing message. And we need to let them know that we will step in and do everything necessary to bring the cyberbully to justice.
As parents, we need to let our kids know that being the victim of a cyberbully isn’t something they need to feel embarrassed or guilty about and that it’s not their fault. Until stricter cyberbully laws are enacted we need to be the protective barrier between our children and the bully.