Decades ago, the school yard was the scene for all youth interactions, friendships, first loves and even first fights. As our younger generations become more technology-obsessed, what once were school yard issues have become World Wide Web issues. And cyberbullying has become a national public health and safety concern. While a majority of states (33) have anti-cyberbullying laws, Utah has included school administrators as stakeholders in their state’s battle against this problem.
Cyberbullying, also known as online bullying, has come to national attention as news wires are filled with the tragic stories of teen suicides and injuries linked to cyber harassment. Through texting and other methods, bullies send, post and distribute images and messages with the intention of humiliating others. In 2007, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in 10 teens was the target of online harassment. Today, studies reveal about 20 percent of students have been the victims of cyberbullying and that more than half of all teens are affected.
Utah Criminal Statutes Make Cyberbullying a Crime
In Utah, cyber crimes such as hacking, stalking, harassment and bullying are addressed by various criminal statutes. Utah has also enacted laws that mandate that each school district must develop policies to address cyberbullying and hazing. Under Utah State Board of Education Policy, cyberbullying includes using e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, pagers, cell phones or other forms of information technology to deliberately harass, threaten or intimidate someone for the purpose of placing a school employee or student in fear of physical harm or harm to their property.
While school administrators train staff and attempt to provide programs that battle bullying, reality proves that cyberbullying is not just a teen thing. The statutes apply to all citizens, regardless of age or status. Peers aren’t the only ones that cannot harass a student over the Internet; some states have enforced their anti-bullying laws against parents, who use the Web to chastise and embarrass their children or their children’s peers. An Arkansas mother, who accessed her son’s account, was placed on probation and ordered to enroll in parenting and anger management classes because of her cyber rant about her child. Other examples of parents who harassed their children’s peers via Facebook, Myspace or other social media have also made headlines.
The World Wide Web and the popularity of social networking have forced many to realize that antisocial behavior is not just a serious problem, but a matter of public safety and public health. Internet etiquette may be compelled, if not by some re-emerging sense of civility, then by threat of criminal penalty and civil liability.