Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, But Cyberbullying Is A Focus of Congress

When I think back to my formative years, I remember quite a bit of trouble with people who made fun, or said mean things about me. I was usually the new kid, as my step-father was in the Army, and since his job was a missile engineer, we tended to get moved around a great deal, and always to smaller towns, Small towns are places where nothing gets by anyone; it’s nearly impossible to blend in. Though I was usually the tallest in the class, I was also a bit more slight than many, so it is not as if I was going to fight my way through it.

That is not how I was taught anyway, so I took a lot of abuse and ridicule. Children can be really bad about things like that. They seem to have no sense of the level of cruelty they inflict.

The difference between then and now, it seems, is that parents are not there to let children know that this behavior is wrong, inconsequential, and transient.  I cannot believe that a child actually killed herself over this type of behavior. It is especially frustrating when this type of bullying is so easily gotten away from. It is not like being in the schoolyard, and being required to be there. When someone attacks online, you simply navigate away from the page, or, in the extreme, shut off the computer.

The fact that this is taking up time in Congress is simply absurd. It is just another thing that should be sidestepped, through the application of reason.

from Ars Technica

Cyberbullying is a delicate subject that is better met with education than with laws to criminalize it, testimony before the House Judiciary Committee suggested yesterday. Most experts testifying at the hearing agreed that criminalization would be difficult—both from an enforcement standpoint and also Constitutionally—while education would offer a better approach to some of the nuances of cyberbullying.

The two bills discussed at the Committee hearing were Representative Linda Sanchez’s (D-CA) “Megan Meier Cyber Bullying Prevention Act” and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-FL) “Adolescent Web Awareness Requires Education Act” (H.R. 1966 and H.R. 3630, respectively). Given the name of the Sanchez bill, it’s clear that it was created in memory of the “MySpace suicide” case of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who was repeatedly manipulated and harassed online by the mother of a peer until she eventually killed herself.

The bill was introduced in April in an attempt to criminalize such behavior, but critics immediately zeroed in on the vagueness of the bill’s language and noted that it could be easily abused to prosecute a wide array of free speech situations. That was once again the focus among critics of the bill in Wednesday’s hearing—civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate pointed out that no citizen (or even the average lawyer or judge) would be able to understand exactly what the bill means when it comes to verbal harassment as a criminal offense. “Often born of good intentions, these legislative efforts have, almost without fail, produced unintended consequences,” Silverglate said, “including excessive and unfair prosecutions as well as the inhibition of the sometimes unruly verbal interactions that are, and should be, the product of a free society.”

Schultz’s AWARE Act, on the other hand, aims to dedicate $125 million in grants per year to develop Internet crime awareness and cybercrime prevention programs. This involves educating parents and children on how to protect themselves, support prevention initiatives, and develop public education campaigns to promote awareness of Internet crimes against children. Harvard Law Professor John Palfrey praised the AWARE Act, calling it a “terrific proposal” that could benefit young Internet users by building an infrastructure of support between doctors, social workers, and the kids themselves.

Despite some disagreement from others about how such funds should be distributed and who should do the distributing, the general consensus among child safety experts was that teaching kids how to deal with cyberbullying firsthand was preferable to trying (and undoubtedly failing) to protect them from it. Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use director Nancy Willard quoted Richard Thornburgh in her testimony, noting that “it is impossible to effectively teach all young people to swim if their parents and teachers only know how to paddle in the shallow part of the pool or are afraid to get wet.”

It’s clear that these two bills take almost completely opposite approaches to dealing with online bullying and harassment, and there are few who work in law or child services seems to favor the Megan Meier bill. That didn’t stop Sanchez from pleading for the children during the hearing—”I want to acknowledge how difficult it will be to craft a prohibition on cyberbullying that is consistent with the Constitution. But I also believe that working together for our children, we can and must do so.”

In the article, it is clear that the intentions are good, but there is also a certain level of ignorance. It is as if children can be protected from all of life’s problems, through legislation.

It can’t happen, and as my step-dad would say, developing a thicker skin is beneficial. It will serve a person well throughout life. Until we become a utopian society, where everyone considers others above themselves, a bit of that thicker skin is an absolute must.



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