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The Battle Royale: Anti-Bullying Laws vs. Cyber Bullying

It goes without saying that everyone, at one point or another, has been the subject of a certain brand of teases and taunts labeled as “bullying.” Usually when thought of, bullying is most commonly depicted as a negative type of social interaction taken place in the classrooms and hallways of schools. It seems that bullying has found a new way to seek out its victims in a more convenient and modernized manner; cyber bullying is capable of reaching and affecting millions instantaneously.

Cyber bullying, as defined by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Pachin of the Cyber Bullying Research Center, is the “Willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.” With the growth in technology this type of electronic harassment is no longer limited to simple cell phone use and the Internet in general. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, have played a large contributing role to the cyber bullying craze, primarily because of the constant, almost 24 hour, use by teens and youth, which in turn allows them to be easy targets initially.

It is because of this effortless accessibility that has sparked several public and leading officials nationwide to put into place several types of Anti- Bullying type laws. New Jersey’s own form of the law has been edited and put into effect by Governor Chris Christie as of last year. according to a New York Times article in August 2011, “The New Jersey law has earned the label of being one of, if not the most, strict form of the Anti-Bullying Laws.” Professor Bordelon, Pre-Law Advisor and Lecturer of Political Science at the University, mentions that the Anti-Bullying Laws are what sparked the creation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. “These Anti-Bullying codes are meant to further train school officials on recognizing harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) under the law and set up an intra-school procedure to receive complaints and determine sanctions once incidents of HIB are found,” says Bordelon.

Bordelon goes on to mention that although the intentions of these laws are certainly noble and of well intentions, any law that is seeking to monitor and regulate language holds the very high potential for a defense under the standings of freedom of speech. Bordelon states, “The Supreme Court has already ruled certain classes of speech not protected, including hate speech and fighting words. What will be interesting is how events under the law will be argued in the courts.” 

Freshman Sandy Freedman, a political science major, comments that the problem with these laws are that they are trying to regulate what is said outside of the school grounds. “You cannot censor everything, especially the internet. If kids want to say and post mean things they are very able to do so, but handing out punishment in school for something that was posted online will be tricky, mainly because you can cover things up online easily,” says Freedman.

It is because of such that had convicted Rutgers University freshman Dharun Ravi guilty after ex-roommate Tyler Clementi’s suicidal jump off of the George Washington Bridge. According to an article in the Huffington Post on March 16, Ravi was convicted on several counts, including of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation enhancers, tampering with evidence through methods of deleting tweets and texts and hindering apprehension or prosecution through the means of lying to police and attempting to influence witness testimony.

Although Ravi was found guilty, many are still left wondering if these Anti-Bullying Laws will truly hold any real weight in future scenarios. Freshman Jackie Morey, a communication major, thinks that these laws will pose as a threat but won’t really serve a purpose higher than that. Morey states that, “People are still going to show, share, and say online what they want. These laws might make them second guess something they are about to post, but in the end that post will be displayed to the cyber world, consequences or not.”

Professor Alan Foster, Sociology adjunct at the University, much like Morey believes that no such laws are going to be able to regulate what is said in the virtual universe. “I don’t think any laws will have an impact on decreasing the amount of ‘social network’ type of bullying that seems to be present these days. The only way to stop bullying, in any form, begins with the family. If discipline, proper behavior, and sensitivity toward others isn’t instilled at an early age, by the family (and/or reinforced by other social institutions) and encouraged, no law is really going to help,” remarks Foster.

With our digital world growing to new and ever expanding heights, it seems natural that a couple of laws be put in place to monitor such and keep order. However, it is done ,and what the laws say ultimately is still up for debate. No matter the resolution, most can agree that any matter involving bullying, cyber or not, can get out of hand rather easily, and that when dealing with such an intangible threat as the Internet, one can never be too careful.