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Cracking down on cyber bullying?

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While doing some research for an upcoming paper and workshop on cyber bulling, I stumbled across a very interesting chart. Put out by the Cyberbully Research Center, this chart presents a quick and concise view of the status of States’ varying bullying and cyber bullying laws. As I write this, its information is quite current, having just been updated.

According to the chart, presently 46 states in the US either have or have proposed bullying laws.  Currently, neither Montana nor South Dakota have laws, nor are there any pending. Only eight states actually use the specific term “cyber bullying” (or cyberbullying, depending on your spelling) in their law, but 34 do include online harassment. You really have to drill down to individual States’ laws to see how the distinction, if any, is made.

But, in this document, you can do that.  After the summary chart, there is a listing, state by state, of the relevant legislation and a quick synopsis of its contents. In many cases, there is an actual link to the text of the law or bill involved.

Because I’m based in Washington State, I naturally popped right down there to see what it said. Apparently, it added specific text including “cyberbullying” to the RCW (Revised Code of Washington), but the law specifies that cyberbullying has been added to the Harassment and Bullying Act for which all schools must have a policy.  It would be interesting to see how many of our public schools and districts HAVE such an amended policy in place.  Of course, the legislation doesn’t specify what the policy should consist of or do, or how effectiveness is to be measured.  The problem is with policies is that they are just “serving suggestions,” and it depends on HOW you implement them and how well they are enforced.  A policy on its own won’t buy you much…except state compliance. (For more on this discussion of the value of legislation, you may want to visit You Can’t Bully Me, It’s Against the Law!)

Massachusetts’ specifics are interesting.  Certainly spurred by the tragic death of Phoebe Prince, there is quite a bit of reference to bullying both within school boundaries and time, as well as outside of school. Moreover, schools must provide training to their staff annually about what the relevant policies in place at the school are.  But, what about training and education for the students? Perhaps that is implied in the policies adopted by the schools, but I’m surprised they would mandate training for the staff, but not the ones actually responsible for most of the bullying and cyber bullying.

In Kansas, they did actually add the term “cyberbullying” and defined it at the State level. However, it’s up to the schools to decide the appropriate punishment.

So I guess what I get from all this is that while there is greater attention being paid to cyber bullying — and bullying overall, — when we say “there’s a law” it doesn’t necessarily mean that the States are cracking down on the problem.  It may mean they have defined the term, and have included it in their legislation, but I’m not sure how much teeth it has when the “law” says that “you aren’t supposed to do it, but we’ll leave it up to the schools to define the punishment.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t that seem to be a lot of time, energy and money spent for something that doesn’t even DO anything, really about the problem? How will THIS stop cyber bullying in our schools and communities, is what I want to know. Otherwise I’m not sure the “law” is worth the paper it’s written on, much less the cost of passing it.

Categories : cyber bullying
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