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Cybercrime and Cyber bullying
Crime refers to one’s engagement in an activity or conduct that is outlawed by a society because it limits its ability to maintain order. Societal order cannot exist without there being a set of rules that determine what is considered harmful activity. It is the contravention of these rules that defines criminal behavior in a society. Cybercrime is one of the many forms of crime that has evolved in recent years owing to technological advancement. A key defining characteristic of cybercrime is that cybercriminals use computer technology in the commission of crime. This marks a migration of actual real-world crime into the cyberspace which is constantly evolving.
There are very many forms of cybercrime but this paper is going to focus on Cyber bullying and its impacts on modern society. Given its societal impacts, specific attention will be put on the reaction of the society toward the growing prevalence of cyber bullying, especially through the implementation and enforcement of anti-cyber bullying policies and legislation
Definition of Cyber bullying
Bullying is any behavior that uses force or threats to harass, intimidate or cause harm to another person. This can manifest in the form of physical intimidation, intimidation by damaging the victim’s property or verbal and relational abuse that is instrumental in tarnishing one’s reputation. The perceived goal of bullying is to dominate another individual through physical or verbal abuse hence lowering their sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Cyber bullying as explained above refers to the utilization of computer-based technology in bullying. While many may view this as a new social problem primarily affecting the youth, bullying is hardly a new behavioral problem. What makes it seem new is that bullying has migrated from the school yards and physical locales into cyberspace are is rampant on social media sites, mobile communications and email messaging (Hunter, 2012). Therefore, it is the same abhorrent behavior, just which the venues in which it occurs has changed thus meriting customized responses from the society in order to curb and potentially eliminate this criminal behavior.
Cyber bullying vs. Traditional bullying
Traditional bullying refers to those forms of bullying that did not involve the utilization of computer-based technology. Traditional bullying cases primarily involved physical confrontation, verbal insult, the humiliation of the victim in front of onlookers and even damaging of property belonging to the victim. In contrast, Cyber bullying affords the aggressor the luxury of the lack of physical confrontation. The lack of physical confrontation brought on by the virtual anonymity available in cyberspace allows for the existence of bullies who would not otherwise be engaging in traditional forms of bullying.
Furthermore, cyber bullying takes on some of the unique attributes of modern technology in that it allows the bully to level persistent attacks at any time of the day and from whatever location provided that they have access to the relevant telecommunication devices and internet access (Hunter, 2012) ; (Long, 2008). While there is no physical assault in cyber bullying, the emotional toll of this form of bullying is much worse compared to traditional bullying. It is important to note that cyber bullying is a term used especially where children are involved. In cases where both the victim and aggressor are adults, the term used to refer to such kind of antisocial behavior is Cyber harassment (Hunter, 2012).
Evolution of Cyber bullying
The term cyber bully was coined after the year 2000 (Hunter, 2012). Before this time, there was no need for a term that described this form of bullying because it was virtually non-existent. This is not to mean that there were no cybercrimes (of which cyber bullying is part of) before the year 2000. On the contrary, there were numerous kinds of cybercrimes that involved hacking, phone phreaking, impersonation and fraud (Brenner, 2010). Cybercrimes started initially as disruptions to computer systems caused by unauthorized individuals with malicious intent. With time and technological advancement, other forms of criminal activity aimed at gaining illicit financial gains permeated into cyberspace. By the year 2000, bullying became a growing phenomenon in cyberspace.
The advent and growth of cyber bullying was precipitated by the proliferation and use of personal computers, mobile phones and the internet (Long, 2008). People increasingly acquired personal computers and mobile phones which they used in various ways including as communication and recreational tools. Computers and mobile phones thus became a critical part of modern society and it stands to reason that the benefits of this technology came hand in hand with its abuse by malicious individuals to propagate insult and intimidation. Nowadays, a majority of children in the U.S and other developed nations own mobile devices and have accounts on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace among other thus becoming potential victims or perpetrators of cyber bullying (Hunter, 2012).
Technology and Evolution of Cyber Bullying
It is important to mention that with every technological advance came new and crueler forms of cyberbullying (Hunter, 2012). Initially, one could only share written communications through the internet but nowadays people can share compromising pictures and videos in public forums consequently damaging the individual’s reputation. This situation is further exacerbated by the technological advancement that allows individuals to edit videos and animate pictures. Such damaging representations are commonly used by cyber bullies as a means of extortion or embarrassment especially if and when they are sent to the victim’s social circle. Some of these compromising videos are generated by children who secretly record their peers in compromising or even vulnerable situations, thereby violating their right to privacy (Goodall, 2017).
Circumstances and Cases That Prompted the National Attention on Cyber-Bullying
The turn of the 21st century has brought numerous technological advancements that have had significant positive impacts on modern society. However, as mentioned earlier on, the advance in technology has also had a chilling impact on the evolution of cyber bullying because technology use constitutes a defining characteristic of cyber bullying. There are a number of cases which will be discussed in this section because they brought cyber bullying into the national and global limelight.
One of the most publicized Cyber bullying stories that gained national attention in the U. S was the case of Ryan Halligan. As in most bullying incidents, Ryan – a thirteen-year-old boy- was targeted by his peers probably because he was different. Ryan had both language and motor skill impairment that made him the target of bullying. On February 2013, he fought with a bully who later befriended him. However, when Ryan opened up and shared an embarrassing personal experience, his friend turned on him and started spreading rumors that he was gay. This same tactic was used by a popular girl in Ryan school who sought to get personal and embarrassing information which she later shared with her friend on AOL instant messenger.
Ryan ultimately hanged himself in the family bathroom. The IM messages were later discovered by his father who was dismayed at the profound role that technology had played in contributing to his Son’s death. In the aftermath of Ryan’s demise, no criminal charges were filed as there were no special laws against cyber bullying. However, Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont signed into law the Vermont’s bully prevention law (Act 117) (NoBulling.com, 2017). Additionally, Ryan’s father has since conducted tours in around the country creating awareness on the dangers of cyber bullying (Long, 2008).
Ryan’s case was not the only one to receive national coverage. In 2007 there was a lot of national media coverage of Megan Meiner – a 13-year-old girl who hanged herself in a bedroom closet in October 2006. Like Ryan, Megan had certain disabilities (attention deficit disorder and depression) that made her a target for cyber bullying. She fell prey to an internet hoax on Myspace that was orchestrated by Ashley Grills and Miss Drew who exploited her struggle with her weight and self-esteem problems. Although Miss Drew was charged in federal court with conspiracy and violating the computer fraud and abuse act, she was acquitted in 2009 and her conviction was vacated. The Megan Meiner bully prevention act was proposed in the same year but was not enacted (NoBulling.com, 2017).
The Victims and Effects of Cyber Bullying
Cyber bullying not only involves the aggressor and the victim but also a group of bystanders who tacitly support or passively watch as bullying goes on. This vice thus has a group mentality that focuses on victimizing single individuals. Cyber bullying also exhibits the phenomenon of changing roles. The bully can either be socially connected or isolated. Moreover, it is not unheard of to hear that some cyber bullies are victims of bullying themselves.
Cyberbullying has the potential of affecting every individual involved in the act whether actively or passively hence victimizing them. Studies have since linked bullying in general to adverse complications on mental health, drug abuse, and even teen suicide. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. It is thus imperative to design effective mechanisms of countering its effect on the young generation.
The recipients of cyber bullying attacks are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and sleep and eating disorders and decreased interest in engaging in activities they enjoy. They may generally feel sad and lonely with a growing perception that everyone is against them. Some of these shortcomings can manifest in decreased academic performance, skipping classes and even dropping out of school. There is also a fringe evidence supporting the relationship between bullying and extreme violence. This is evident from the fact that most of the perpetrators of school shootings in the 1990’s had a history of being bullied.
A further complication brought forth by cyber bullying is the increased susceptibility to suicidal tendencies. This claim supported by sheer logic, mainly because bullies largely target the weak and different, most of whom already have physical and mental disabilities. Cyber bullying victims thus lack the emotional resilience to withstand the emotional beating and humiliation caused by cyber bullying.
Moreover, the bullies and the bystanders are not immune from the effects of cyber bullying. Bullies generally engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse and engaging in premature sex. These risky activities may inevitably earn them criminal convictions as in the case of Miss Drew. Additionally, perpetrators of this vice are most likely to have unstable relationships in their adult life due to their increased propensity towards abuse, especially to their romantic partners. The bystanders to bulling, on the other hand, may suffer from mental health issues and are more prone to indulge in substance abuse.
Statistics on Cyber Bullying
According to research done by the Cyberbullying Research center, over eighty percent of the teen frequently utilize their mobile phones thus making it the weapon of choice for cyber bullies. Furthermore, about 50% of teens in the U.S have experienced some form of cyberbullying with 10 -20% experiencing cyberbullying on a regular basis. Boys are at least as likely as girls to be perpetrators or recipients of cyber bullying. Studies also show that the most prevalent form of cyber bullying occurs in the form of mean and hurtful comments. The studies carried out by the Cyberbullying Research center also support the claim that cyber bullying victims are most likely to be suffering from low self-esteem and suicidal inclinations (Bullying Statistics.org, 2016).
Legislation Related To Cyber Bullying
All the states in the U.S have legislations that regulate bullying behavior. The criminal laws in these states are applicable based on the nature of the bullying incident. With regard to cyber bullying, all states have criminal harassment and stalking legislations. However, only forty-four states have legislation that penalizes cyber bullying and electronic harassment. The states which do not have cyberbullying criminal statutes are the states of Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Wyoming. Additionally, only twenty-one states have explicit mention of cyber bullying in their anti-bullying statues (Stopbulling.gov, 2016).
Every state with the exception of the state of Montana has bullying laws that require schools to have a formal policy that aids in the identification of bullying and the formal and informal imposition of sanctions applicable. While some states like Arkansas require a specific definition of bullying in their school policy, others remain ambiguous of specific elements involved in bullying. However, federal case law permits schools to sanction children for off-campus behavior that significantly compromises the learning environment at school. It is important to note that despite the fact that 49 states having anti-bullying statutes of some sort, there is no federal anti-bullying law. Moreover, bullying is not illegal and only violates federal law when it becomes harassment (Stopbulling.gov, 2016).
Cyber Bullying Laws in Arkansas
The anti-bullying legislations in the state of Arkansas clearly define cyber bullying. By definition cyber bullying in Arkansas refers to any electronic act which causes a significant disruption of school activities and the education environment. In a more detailed definition, the legislation covers any intimidation, harassment, humiliation or embarrassment that is inflicted on a student or school employee. Cyber bullying is also included in Arkansas State’s criminal statues alongside physical bullying.
Aside from the school environment, Arkansas law stipulates that cyber bullying is a crime and anyone who uses computer communications with the deliberate intention of causing the recipient to be frightened intimidated or threatened commits a misdemeanor. The sender of such communications also violates this law if he/she disseminates the message with a reasonable expectation that the target recipient will receive and view it.
Under the provisions of (Ark. Code Ann. § 5-71-209) any individual who utilizes a phone or any written communication to harass, alarm or annoy another person faces criminal liability for a misdemeanor crime. This statute does not require the prosecution to prove intent thus effectively lowering their burden of proof required by prosecutors in order to get a conviction for individuals charged with this crime. If convicted of this crime a person may face a sentence not exceeding one-year imprisonment and/ or a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred U.S Dollars.
Policy Provisions That Counter Cyber Bullying In Arkansas
Arkansas anti-bullying laws require schools in Arkansas to have a formal policy that aids in the identification of bullying and the formal and informal sanctions applicable. The policy is designed to protect both the student and school employees from harassment or intimidation. Since bullying and harassment are normally channeled towards individuals with various characteristic, Arkansas policy law incorporates a number of specially protected groups which because of their unique attributes become the targets of bullying and harassment. The protected attributes are race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, ancestry, religion, socioeconomic status, health condition and academic status.
Arkansas school anti-bullying policies must include a definition of bullying and its prohibition, a statement on the sanctions that may be imposed by the school in cases of bullying, a requirement for the reporting of suspected bullying cases by school employees and the express prohibition to retaliation against anyone reporting bullying. Furthermore, copies of this policy should be displayed prominently throughout the school for all student and staff to see.
Limitations and/or Gaps Related To Cyber-Bullying Legislation
There are certain limitations to cyber bullying legislation. First, of in some states, there is no clear definition of the key elements like the legal definition of key terminologies. For the law to be effective, there needs to be a concise definition of what cyber bullying is in order to clearly delineate what actions or activities are criminal and which are not. Secondly, there is no federal anti-bullying legislation. This is despite the fact of cyber bullying having gained national coverage prompting a knee-jerk reaction from legislators. Based on the unique characteristics of that differentiate cyber bullying from conventional bullying, there needs to be a federal legislation that deals with acts of cyber bullying that occurs across state boundaries.
The Degree to Which the Penalties Imposed Are Adequate For Penalizing Cyber Bullies
As determined earlier on, cyber bullying mainly occurs in schools with a large majority of the bullies and victims being young children or even teenagers. It, therefore, stands to reason that while rehabilitation via juvenile detention and paying of fines might be necessary in some cases, it may be considered as either a disproportionate or inadequate remedy to this abhorrent behavior in young children. While the imposition of fines would serve as a motivation the parents of such children to closely monitor their online activity so as to limit their criminal behaviors, the children this case might not fully appreciate the gravity of their actions.
The penalties imposed on cyber bullying should operate in concert with efforts by the adults in the society, particularly the children’s parents to help prevent future attacks on other children. There should also be a proactive rehabilitation program for children with the focus on reforming their way of thinking and instilling values that encourage pro-social behaviors. The penalties permitted under the law should thus act as the last line of defense against this behavior (Thaxter, 2010).
Furthermore, schools should teach children not to be bystanders during acts of bullying but to take action so as so stop the situation before the damage becomes irreparable. Bullying takes a huge emotional toll, especially on the victim’s parts. Such an injury can last a lifetime and no amount of jail time or fines can make up for that damage. It is important to consider the fact that in more times than most when the aggressors are penalized, they temporarily stop the attacks while searching for other more covert ways of inflicting harm on the same or other cyber bullying victims. It is thus prudent for there to be multiple approaches to dealing with this behavior, both proactive and reactive as the current penalties are not sufficient to deal with this behavior (Thaxter, 2010).
Challenges Law Enforcement Officers Face In The Efforts To Prevent And Address Cyber Bullying.
One of the major challenges law enforcement officers face in their fight against cyber bullying is the issue of jurisdiction. Take the example of Arkansas: both federal case law and state policy law give the school power to penalize cyber bullying activities in and out of school provided that the acts being penalized has significant adverse impacts on the learning environment in schools. This thus necessitates law enforcement officers to develop a partnership with schools in order to determine the appropriate jurisdiction on a case to case basis.
Secondly, while adjudication offers the most favorable and desired outcome for rehabilitating delinquent youth involved in cyber bullying, there are certain pitfalls associated with this form of rehabilitation. Since there are cyber bullies who are 17 years or younger, law enforcement investigations could potentially trigger Mirada warnings necessitating the involvement of interested adults which could complicate the situation (Thaxter, 2010). Further, care should be taken to ensure that the partnership developed between law enforcement and schools do not make schools a law enforcement agency which could severely hamper the adjudication process by making certain pieces of evidence gathered inadmissible in court. Finally, law enforcement officers need to maintain a working knowledge of the latest technological advances in communications and social networking sites. This might be a challenge because it requires both periodic training and an injection of already limited resources (Thaxter, 2010).
Constitutional Issues with Cyber Bullying Laws
While anti-bullying legislations related with cyber bullying aim at solving one problem, they might inadvertently raise another constitutional issue. This constitutional issue is the impermissible limitation of first amendment free speech rights especially on the issue of sanctioning cyber bullying actions that were committed off- campus. While students do not have the right to disrupt school activities through cyber bullying, they are protected by the first amendment constitution free speech rights. Due to this challenge, some cases where students have brought lawsuits on their schools for sanctioning their off-campus cyber bullying have survived summary judgments in favor of the mentioned schools in courts of law. The consequent legal argument then focuses on whether for a fact the off -campus actions of the plaintiff caused a substantial disruption of the learning environment in school (Klancher, 2014).
Cyber bullying is gradually becoming a serious societal problem facing the young generation. As mentioned earlier this antisocial behavior has far-reaching and deep setting impacts on the lives of the people involved. It thus stands to reason that the penalties imposed on cyber bullying should operate in concert with efforts by the adults in the society, particularly the children’s parents to help prevent future attacks on other children. There should also be a proactive rehabilitation program for children with the focus on reforming their way of thinking and instilling values that encourage pro-social behaviors. The penalties permitted under the law should majorly act as the last line of defense against this behavior
Moreover, law enforcement officials have a critical role to play especially when it comes to enforcing current laws on cyber bullying. Unlike traditional bullying, cyber bullying leaves an electronic trail that can be pursued and used as evidence against the perpetrators of this crime in criminal and civil proceedings. Since Law enforcement officials possess the necessary tools at their disposal to investigate these crimes, they are very capable of enforcing cyber bullying laws by investigating forwarding the perpetrators coupled with evidence of their perceived guilt to the criminal justice system for prosecution. However since cyber bullying evolves with the evolution of technology, law enforcement officials need to keep up with the latest technology and trends in social networking sites and forum. Cyber bullying legislation also needs to keep up with changing trends in cybercrime.
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