Recently, Andy Safranko was asked by the Guilderland High School School newspaper – The Journal – to answer a few questions related to cyberbullying. We thought it would be appropriate to supplement that Q & A with a brief background on cyberbullying and how it impacts everyone.
What is cyberbullying?
There are several similar definitions, but it boils down to the act of bullying someone by electronic communications. Bullying is generally defined as repeated unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves real or perceived power imbalance; electronic means are texts and other forms of social media.
Why has cyberbullying become so widespread?
Twenty years ago, most people only knew the Internet as AOL.com and used the Internet to research school projects and email friends and family. Outside of celebrities, people did not have their own websites and video clips by and large did not exist for streaming on the Internet. Bullying was still a problem among school-aged children, but it only existed in person.
Fast-forward two decades and the Internet has become incredibly diverse and accessible. Over one billion people have their own social networking accounts and over 72 billion hours of video are consumed on YouTube each year. This social media revolution has also given school-aged children a very large audience to share their thoughts and ideas. Like twenty years ago, bullies still exist, only now the bullying doesn’t stop when a student leaves school.
How is cyberbullying dealt with in New York?
In response to cyberbullying, New York State enacted laws collectively known as the Dignity for All Students Act to address bullying in and out of the classroom. The Act was recently amended to include cyberbullying as well. This Act requires schools to implement policies to educate students on the effects of bullying and how to prevent bullying from happening. The Act also gives schools the power to punish students who participate in bullying activities.
In circumstances where the school determines that the bullying may have risen to levels of criminal harassment, they are required to refer the bullying to local law enforcement.
Is cyberbullying “against the law” in New York?
In New York State, the legislature enacts Penal Laws to criminalize certain kinds of bad conduct. To date, no such legislation has been passed criminalizing cyberbullying. Rather, New York State laws criminalize many different forms of harassment, and often times cyberbullying can fit under one of these definitions.
Sometimes, the Counties and Towns of New York enact laws of their own that criminalize certain acts. For instance, In 2010, the Albany County legislature enacted a Local Law criminalizing cyberbullying, making it illegal and punishable by up to a year imprisonment.
Andy was also interviewed in The Spotlight regarding the same issue http://m.spotlightnews.com/news/2013/dec/23/more-fallout-guilderland-sophomore-rap/?templates=mobile.
As of the writing of this blog, the Albany County Local Law has been challenged three separate times for being overbroad and vague. The reason for these challenges has to do with free speech protections; the local law punishes innocent speech in the form of opinions and statements. In almost all cases involving laws that restrict free speech, the Courts of this country side with the person doing the talking, so long as what they are saying is not a threat to public safety. For example, it is not protected speech to walk into a movie theater and yell “fire,” because this would cause panic, hysteria, and could hurt someone. By contrast, when a celebrity tweets something embarrassing about another celebrity, this is protected speech, and that celebrity is not going to be thrown in jail.
Cyberbullying is a major issue in New York. It can lead to serious consequences, and it should not be taken lightly. Schools are empowered under the Dignity for All Students Act to educate students on the dangers of cyberbullying, and if necessary, to punish students who engage in cyberbullying. If you know of someone who is being bullied, please contact the local schools’ administration; do not let any act of cyberbullying go unreported. For more information on how to prevent cyberbullying before it starts, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/index.html.