Beating the CyberBully

If you have an online life, you know the CyberBullies are stalking around you.  They send you hate mail or leave anonymous/faked comments on your blog.  They hide their identities because they are not brave enough to own their own words.  They live in the muck and tar of disease and depression and they are not happy unless they can try to bring you down to their sycophant level. 


I have always wondered why sending death threats via postal mail or the telephone will get you arrested while uttering the same sort of dark nonsense on the internet rarely gets an authoritarian look unless you know how to press the matter. 

I’m delighted to report that things are changing and the CyberBully can now be prosecuted for bad behavior on the Internet.

Prosecutors have begun bringing criminal charges under a new Missouri cyberbullying law passed in reaction to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl who was harassed on the Internet. After the suicide of Megan Meier and subsequent prosecution of her adult neighbor Lori Drew, lawmakers in Missouri amended the state’s harassment law to cover electronic bullying and stalking.

Drew, 49, was convicted last month of several federal misdemeanors for her role in what prosecutors called a cruel online hoax — using the social networking site MySpace — that allegedly led Meier to kill herself. Drew was prosecuted in Los Angeles, where MySpace’s computer servers are located, after authorities in Missouri said no state laws had been broken.

Almost half the states now have anti-CyberBully laws and more unions are joining the good fight every day:

Her enemies nicknamed her “Pork and Beans.” Eggs and thumbtacks were thrown at her car in August, police say. A week later, the 16-year-old St. Peters girl found a can of beans dumped on the car’s roof. Text messages — spurred by jealousy over a boy — soon filled the girl’s cell phone. Then came vulgar voice mails: one caller even threatening rape.

As a result, prosecutors used a new cyber harassment law to charge a 21-year-old St. Charles woman. Nicole A. Williams is charged with misdemeanor harassment. She is accused of sending harassing text messages to the girl and letting friends use her cell phone to leave threatening voice messages. Her case is one of at least seven involving adults in the St. Louis area filed since Missouri’s new cyber-bullying law took effect Aug. 28. Williams’ is the first harassment case involving text messaging filed in St. Charles County under the new law.

Eighteen states now have laws targeting Internet harassment and cyber-stalking, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In the fallout of the cyber-bullying case of Dardenne Prairie teenager Megan Meier, legal experts say the long-term impact of such laws is just beginning to take shape. Illinois lawmakers passed a similar law this year, but it doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. The law includes prohibiting a website with third-party access that contains “harassing statements made for the purpose of alarming, tormenting or terrorizing a specific person.”

Singapore steps up to punch the CyberBully:

A 16-YEAR-OLD girl here created fake profiles on popular social networking sites MySpace and Facebook with a single-minded purpose: To befriend those she disliked in school. Once the connections were made, the teen turned on her schoolmates, hurling nasty insults at them. 
The bullying was reminiscent of a now infamous 2006 case where American teenager Megan Meier killed herself after being taunted online. In that case, the mother of a former friend created a phony online profile to bully the girl.

According to psychologist Vanessa von Auer, the Singaporean girl was discovered by the school before her victims could suffer any deep emotional scars. Psychologists, counsellors and teachers, however, are worried that the methods of Singaporean cyber bullies have morphed into something more vicious than before. A 2006 survey found that a quarter of 3,488 Singaporean students polled had been victimised by cyber bullies.

‘The new breed of bullies is narcissist. They treat the Internet as their stage, with an instant audience of thousands – or even millions,’ said Dr Carol Balhetchet, the director of youth services at the Singapore Children’s Society. ‘It just takes one to get it going, and it’s like wildfire. Online, users can see what others are doing, even if they’re half a continent away,’ said Dr Balhetchet.

YouTube, MySpace and Facebook stand up to the CyberBullies to stare ‘em down:

Victoria Grand, YouTube’s head of policy, says she didn’t see the video and can’t comment on it but has “tremendous sympathy” for the family. YouTube has “a zero-tolerance policy for predatory behavior, stalking, threats and harassment” and reacts to most flags in less than an hour, she says; videos raising “more complicated” issues may take longer. Last week, YouTube took a major step by unveiling a new “Abuse and Safety Center” tool, including a tab on its home page that leads users through a step-by-step reporting process. Also, citing “the increasing number of videos showing children involved in violence,” YouTube recently changed language on a menu for flagging problems in order to encourage reporting.

MySpace, the biggest social-networking site, is building technology to improve its capacity to delete hate speech and other harmful postings even before users report them, Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer, told an industry safety conference last week. The site has been expanding e-mail and phone-reporting conduits for parents and generally responds within 24 hours. Parents can flag abuse through either the “Contact MySpace” tab or the “Safety Tips” tab, which links to a “For Parents & Educators” page and a parent guide to MySpace, part of News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook is continuing to refine its reporting and take-down procedures, says chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. The site posts “Report this” tabs and commits to responding within 24 hours to complaints about nudity, pornography or harassment of minors. Its Facebook.com/safety page has a link to an auditing firm to provide feedback on its responsiveness. Another site, myYearbook.com, posts a “Report Abuse” icon and usually responds within 24 hours.

What we need is a Federal criminalization of CyberBullying — in order to nullify the notion of “Safe Haven CyberBully States” — and I’m sure a nationwide blanket policy against CyberBullying is on its way, because no fair human community of conscience would ever rightfully support hurting and terrorizing people online, in person, or in their dreams.

18 comments

  • Kathakali Chatterjee

    Hi David,
    I just hate to receive freaky e-mails out of no where and am really glad to know about the laws to stop those wierdos.
    This should be treated as “cyber crime” and apropriate action should be taken immediately.

    Like

  • David,
    These measures will go a long way in protecting the young and impressionable amongst us. teenagers going through their awkward years being scarred emotionally or psychologically by these haters is a very disturbing trend that needs to be checked.

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  • It has to change, Katha. There’s no way conscious beings should ever have to put up with these anonymous, hateful people who are — in their real lives — simpering cowards, and the only way they can fight back and gain self respect is by writing the most awful stuff and then clicking the send/submit button for a thrill. We should really pity them; but I prefer just filtering them so we never have to read their bile. Putting them in jail is the best end, ever.

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  • I agree, Dananjay. We don’t tolerate bullies on the playground — why abide them online? I also enjoy the idea of the older, immature bullies finally getting their due. There’s no place to hide on the internet, so “hiding” is a pretty fruitless endeavor. I’m glad now there are more rules and laws to foment better behavior in every aspect of your life online.

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  • Good riddance! I’m glad that cyber bullies are getting their comeuppance now. Nobody should be deserved bullies, even online.

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  • benleichtling.pip.verisignlabs.com

    Thanks for the post David,
    It’s so frustrating for parents and kids because we feel pretty helpless.
    I’m glad states are finally passing laws to outlaw cyberbullying and I hope the Federal government will also. I’m glad YouTube, MySpace and Facebook also have become part of the policing effort; good for them. If they don’t take strong action, then parents shouldn’t allow their children to use those sites.
    It’s the only way we’ll have a chance to stop cyberbullies. It’ll still be difficult, but at least it’ll be possible.
    The laws will make it possible to draw the line that outing and prosecuting cyberbullies is more important than the anonymity and privacy that the internet affords … and that we all like.
    I don’t let my empathy, sympathy and pity get in the way of doing what’s necessary to stop cyberbullies’ behavior. Not only put them in jail, but make it illegal for them to get on the net again. Just like we restrict some activities of convicted felons.
    Disclosure: In addition to having six children, I’m a practical, pragmatic coach and consultant. Check out my website and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com). I’ve written “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and also many posts on my blog about how to develop resilient kids.
    Best wishes,
    Ben

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  • We must continue the good fight, Gordon! These CyberBullies live on negative attention. They are obsessed with degrading goodness. They live off the lie and come off the cry and only together can we bash them back into their dark mountain cornices.

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  • Thanks for the comment, Ben, and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    I appreciate your website and your effort to drive away the bullies. Part of the reason we require registered commenters is to press away the convenient bully.
    It’s too bad a young woman had to die in order for CyberBullying to be taken as a serious threat to the righteous fabric of society. We need to mend those tears and punish those that mock the law and our morality with their deceitful, wishful, wants.

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  • At long last something is being done – it is shame on us that it has taken a tragedy such as this to get some action.

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  • Right, Nicola. It’s a horrible thing that in order for important things to happen, someone has to die to get the attention of the powerful.

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  • In regards to the article about cyber bullying in Singapore, It’s odd that ” Vanessa Von Auer” is the psychologist who referenced this 16 year old girl that ‘allegedlly’ created a fake facebook account. That is exactly what this very psychologist, Vanessa Von Auer did. She is in the mental profession and she knows the effects, thus the irony of her commenting on this article.
    I don’t know ALL details, as my boss is friend’s with the victim, Vanessa created a fake Facebook account in the name of her ex boyfriend, a manager at a Bar called Hideout in Singapore. She then sent messages to 100’s of people on his Bar’s facebook group list. I don’t know all the details, my boss is friends with this manager. How hypocritical! I doubt there is a 16 year old… sounds like this psychologist is more than a little crazy though!

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  • Thanks for the link to this post David!
    It’s about time that the BIG BOYS FINALLY did something about the ever increasing menace of “cyberbullying”. It truly is a shame that a teen’s life was the price paid before action was deemed necessary! Doesn’t it seem that they (the lawmakers) are always “a day late and a dollar short”? I guess it’s “better late than never” ( and I say that with sadness and the deepest respect for the victims).
    I wonder if my state has been noble enough to adopt this law as well? I’ll have to check on that. It would sure have been a comfort some years ago.

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  • I hope you’ll let us know about the cyberbully laws in your state, Heartmelody69. I’ve argued in the past that people should have to be licensed to blog and post comments. OpenID and other verifying agencies are coming around to meet that necessary mandate. Anonymity ruins free speech. The Well was/is a famous online community from way back — and they always required a real first name and last name. People are much more cordial when their public words are glued to their private reputations.

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  • Cyberbullies are bullies. Period. So retaliate against them, find a way to find out about their bad lives, what made them so miserable… and strive to make it worse. Learn about your enemy’s weaknesses and exploit them like they do to their targets.
    I got harrassed when I worked at Sky Harbor by a co-worker because I collect Sci-Fi toys for a Hobsession (hobby obsession). He wouldn’t let up. Then I found out he had a drug problem. That was SO easy to rib him about. “Hey, you’re fat and you play with toys!” / “Awww… your favorite dealer get busted?” or, “Ha… ha… Snort any `happiness’ today?” (Then loudly, comically imitate snorting coke). That would get him every time. And he couldn’t touch me, mainly because we were under security cameras at all times. Fortunately, he got fired so I didn’t have to deal with him anymore.

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    • That’s an excellent story, Ken, I appreciate you sharing it with us. Bullies are all around us now. It seems they think that bullying is the quickest way to finding an easy financial and emotional success. They keep bullying because it works for them.

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