Why Can't We Be Friends?

Geoffrey Eppler
Dr. Ann Guess
10 November 2011
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
In the past decade, social media and technological advances have expanded our abilities to communicate with each other and the world. These recent liberations have allowed users to stay connected and reconnect with friends and family with great efficiency, but they have also created a possibility for anonymous harassment, public ridicule, and bullying. Under the cloak of “perceived” anonymity, users and abusers have experienced a sense of freedom to say whatever is on their minds. The improper use of these capabilities has become increasingly troubling among today’s youth and throughout schools. There has been an escalation of “cyberbullying” and its accompanying negative effects. This unregulated domain of technology and these unfiltered publications of speech have also become an alarming issue in recent courtrooms. To this day, many states lack proper legislation to protect their citizens in cyberharassment cases; therefore, the regulation has been hanging unattended. How to classify these cases and deliver appropriate justice to violators has been subject to vague definitions leaving clarification open to interpretation by individual courts. Some courts have used the vague definitions of the law in their favor to convict defendants who probably should have been protected under the First Amendment. State statutes need to be amended in order to delegate the responsibility to teach awareness and prevention techniques to schools and to ensure appropriate justice without infringing on an individual’s protected freedoms. How dangerous is Cyberbullying? The term cyberbullying has recently been coined to define the use of speech communicated via an electronic device (computers, cell phones, etc…) with the intention of embarrassing, harassing, or threatening another person. The emergent presence of texting and Internet usage has intensified the prevalence of cyberbullying in schools. Recent events have exposed cyberbullying as being a contributor to violent crimes and suicides. In one case, Ryan Hulligan, a thirteen-year-old teen, committed suicide after discovering that an online relationship with a classmate was fabricated with the sole intention of humiliating him in front of his friends. In another case out of Massachusetts, Phoebe Prince, a fifteen-year-old teen, ended her own life after her classmates’ bullying followed her from the school grounds to text messages and Facebook postings. Cyberbullying has proven itself to be a definite cause for concern; recent research data collected by Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin W. Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center reveal that out of “2,000 randomly-selected middle-schoolers from one of the most populous school districts in the United States, 20% of respondents reported seriously thinking about attempting suicide...” Based on their statistical data, Hinduja and Patchin were also able to establish a relationship between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts. They concluded that “cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely and cyberbullying offenders were 1.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not cyberbullying victims or offenders” (Hinduja and Patchin). As a society, we hold great importance on protecting our youth and their educational environment. A threat of this magnitude must be addressed. The majority of states in the United States have some adaptation of a “cyberbullying” or “cyberharassment” law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only fifteen states lack legislation adequate to combat cyberbullying occurrences (”Cyberbullying”). The majority of the controversy concerning statutes against cyberbullying centers on whether the schools are the best suited facilitators for regulating cyberbullying and to what extent should their jurisdiction reach. Darcy Lane, who wrote “Taking the Lead on Cyberbullying,”...
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