Setting Anti-Cyberbullying Legal Policies

Setting Anti-Cyberbullying Legal Policies

Gilberto Marzano (Rezekne Academy of Technologies, Latvia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8076-8.ch002
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It is a broadly shared opinion that establishing the illegitimacy of cyberbullying is a primary action in combating it. In this regard, schools should openly declare that cyberbullying is not an acceptable or admissible behavior, and firm rules regarding this phenomenon should be implemented by them. In this chapter, the problem of setting anti-cyberbullying legal policies will be addressed. Two cases are illustrated and discussed, the famous case of Lori Drew related to the suicide of Megan Meier that occurred in 2006, and the Italian case of Tiziana Cantone whose suicide occurred 10 years later. In fact, the latter was not a cyberbullying case, but it is remarkable since it generated a huge emotional reaction among Italian people that ultimately led to the implementation of the Italian law against cyberbullying in 2017 and, in 2019, brought about the law against the unsolicited sharing of compromising erotic pictures or video, known as revenge porn. Both cases illustrate the issues that may arise in drawing effective anti-cyberbullying laws. The absence of a univocal definition of cyberbullying and the pressure of public opinion negatively affects the establishment of appropriate legal policies. Indeed, the formulation of a law implies unequivocally identifying an infraction and having clear rules to punish it. The current legal situation of cyberbullying in different countries is highlighted, focusing on the USA and Europe, and the general questions regarding the criminalization and punishment of cyberbullying are also analyzed. Finally, the use and positive influence of anti-cyberbullying regulations at schools are reviewed and discussed.
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One of the key principles of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is setting “firm limits on unacceptable behavior” (Olweus, 2003, 15). Indeed, a few years ago, Hinduja and Patchin also suggested a similar principle, arguing that it is crucial to “teach students that all forms of bullying are unacceptable and that cyberbullying behaviors are potentially subject to discipline” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018).

However, defining anti-cyberbullying policies is a challenging issue. According to modern law sociologists, laws and legal systems are social constructions and are not matters of nature but of artifice (Hart, Hart & Green, 2012). A law formalizes in a rule or a set of rules what society considers important to regulate, reflecting the moral beliefs and values of a particular time. As a consequence, legal systems don’t remain static.

Nowadays, new technologies are disrupting social attitudes, and making adequate legal policies is a necessity. Indeed, a great effort is being made at a global level to establish common policies to harmonize and manage the impact of ICT, for example to regulate the legal value of digital documents, electronic signatures, and e-commerce transactions. In the last decade, endeavors have been made to enforce privacy protection as well as to introduce anti-cyber crime policies.

In this scenario, cyberbullying is attracting social, political, and academic interest (Martinez-Pecino & Durán, 2016). In this regard, it has been observed that while there aren’t many calls for changing laws to prevent and punish students who engage in face-to-face bullying, there are many calls for laws against anti-cyberbullying (Campbel & Zavrsnik, 2013).

There could be two main reasons for this. The first is that in the last three decades it was common to find school staff and parents who believed that bullying was not a concern (Rigby, 2008). They not only underestimated its frequency but also considered the experience of bullying as a normal part of growing up for children (“Kid will be kids”; “Kids need to learn to deal with bullying on their own”; “Don’t let it get to you”; “You’re too sensitive ... toughen up”). Even though the observed consequences of bullying are depression, anxiety, and serious psychosomatic effects including suicide, there are still those even now who view it as an inevitable part of growing up (Copeland, Wolke, Angold, & Costello, 2013).

The second reason is a consequence of the increasing attention of the media on cyberbullying. Extreme cases that end with the suicide of the victim are extensively reported and commented on by experts, especially psychologists and lawyers. People tend to adapt their responses to the worst and most shocking cases. Researchers in the area of social control have long posited a relationship between media, popular culture, and perceptions of punishment, including punitive attitudes (Callanan & Rosenberger, 2011; Demker, Towns, Duus-Otterstrom, & Sebring, 2008; Dowler, 2003) and support for capital punishment (Britto & Noga-Styron, 2014).

Moreover, cyberbullying is the label used by media to encompass a broad range of online misbehavior. The situation is similar in other contexts. In fact, it has been observed that the “myth of homogeneity” regarding the sex offender population has permeated the domains of media and public policy (Galeste, Fradella, & Vogel, 2012).

In the following paragraphs, the question of criminalization of cyberbullying will be tackled and two notorious cases will be illustrated and analyzed. The first is the case of Dori Drew, the mother that helped her daughter to create the false account used to cheat and hurt the thirteen-year-old Megan Meier. The victim committed suicide, but all attempts to incriminate Dori Drew failed. Although no charge was made against Lori Drew relating to the suicide of Megan, this case continues to be presented as a classic example of cyberbullying,

Key Terms in this Chapter

Child Online Protection Act (COPA): A law approved in the US in 1998 whose purpose was restricting minors from access to online harmful and offensive material.

Strict Scrutiny: A form of judicial review that courts use to determine the constitutionality of certain laws.

Revenge Porn: The publication of sexually explicit material portraying someone who has not consented to the image or video being shared.

Law Sources in the USA: There are five sources: constitutional law, statutory law, treaties, administrative regulations, and the common law (which includes case law).

Outing and Trickery: Is when someone hacks an account and starts posting embarrassing photos, texts, conversations, and more.

Common Law: The ancient law of England based upon societal customs and recognized and enforced by the judgments and decrees of the courts.

True Threat: The serious expression of intent to perform an illegal violent act that is directed toward a particular person or group.

Civil Law: Also called the continental or Romano-Germanic legal system, is based on concepts, categories, and rules derived from Roman law.

First Amendment: The US principle that prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

Supreme Court: The highest federal court of justice of the US and the final interpreter of federal laws including the Constitution; it may act only within the context of a case in which it has jurisdiction.

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