Monday, November 7, 2011

Cyber Harassment Laws - When Social Media Bullying Goes Too Far

I don't have any tolerance for bullies. My youngest sister dealt with bullies during junior high so bullying is a subject I don't take lightly. According to a study by UCLA psychologists, almost three in four teenagers say they were bullied online at least once during a 12-month period, and only one in 10 reported such cyber-bullying to parents or other adults. That's an alarming statistic. 
Social media has opened up a new kind of cyber harassment - the social media bully. We have all experienced an online bully in one form or another. 
And cyber harassment is AGAINST THE LAW. But what constitutes cyber harassment, cyber bullying and cyber stalking?
The National Conference of State Legislature breaks them down as follows:
"Cyberstalking.  Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. Cyberstalking may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm. Sanctions range from misdemeanors to felonies.
Cyberharassment. Cyberharassment differs from cyberstalking in that it is generally defined as not involving a credible threat. Cyberharassment usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual. Some states approach cyberharrassment by including language addressing electronic communications in general harassment statutes, while others have created stand-alone cyberharassment statutes. 

Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and cyberharassment are sometimes used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this chart, cyberbullying is used for electronic harassment or bullying among minors within a school context. Recent cyberbullying legislation reflects a trend of makaing school districts the policy enforcers of such misconduct. As a result, statutes establish the infrastructure for schools to handle this issue by amending existing school anti-bullying policies to include cyberbullying or electronic harassment among school age children. The majority of these state laws establish sanctions for all forms of cyberbullying on school property, school busses and official school functions. However, some have also extended sanctions to include cyberbullying activities that originate off-campus, believing that activities off-campus can have a chilling and disruptive effect on children's learning environment. The sanctions for cyberbullying range from school/parent interventions to misdemeanors and felonies with detention, suspension, and expulsion in between. Some of these laws promote Internet safety education or curricula that covers cyberbullying."
It's one thing to block a person who rants and raves and acts immature on social media, but when they become scary and infringe upon your privacy (or your family's privacy), then it's time to take action and involve the law. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, one of my clients went through an online stalking situation and had to involve a lawyer. 
Here are tips you can incorporate on your own if you are being cyberstalked. If you think that your cyberstalker suffers from mental health issues, I HIGHLY recommend not tackling this person on your own. Involve the proper authorities and seek legal counsel.
I like these tips from - how to track an online stalker: 
Look for clues to repetitiveness, do they use the same email to register to different websites? Do they post under the exact same username/account? Do they have a style of writing?  
Report them directly to the websites they are utilizing to harass and stalk you. Follow-up and make sure action is taking, whether through a first-time warning, closing of an account, or making sure their actions are logged, their IP is identified and tracked by the admins of the website.
For more resources and tips on cyber harassment, cyber bullying and internet stalkers, check out the following websites:

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Therese Pope, Copywriter/Content Developer & Digital Buzz-icist

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