The tragedies resulting from cyberbullying cases and the wide-spread publicity these incidents receive, has impacted the legislatures of many states and given rise to new laws to combat cyberbullying in schools. Fifteen states now have laws that expressly stipulate cyberbullying among minors as a punishable offense. The level of offense ranges from misdemeanor to a third-strike felony in one state. One thing they all have in common is that they all seek to involve the school in assuring incidents of cyberbullying are reported and that schools become deeply engaged in addressing issues before they escalate.
Though state cyberbullying laws have arisen mostly within the past 3—4 years, laws against bullying have been on the books of many states for much longer. In fact, all states except Montana have laws against bullying and many states have updated their statutes to include language to include “electronic harassment”. However, only 15 state laws stipulate “cyberbullying” and most have many factors in common including:
Cyberbullying threats must be reported to school officials immediately – All these laws put the onus on teachers and other school personnel to report any incidents of cyberbullying they observe or suspect. Often there is a time limit connected to this – reporting the incident within one day, issuing a written report within three days, etc.
Schools must have a process for reporting in place – School administrators must create a process for reporting cyberbullying and all school personnel and parents must be made aware of the process.
Schools must provide training for all constituents – This is a common theme among all bullying laws which direct schools to establish training for teachers, staff and students, with the goal of making each group aware of the seriousness of cyberbullying and the adverse and long-lasting effects it has on victims. Teachers are to be trained to look for and recognize signs that someone may be either a bully or a victim. Most state laws require that parents also be involved.
Responsibility for controlling cyberbullying does not end at the school campus – Many states are requiring that schools take responsibility for controlling the problem even when cyberbullying occurs outside of school, if the behavior is likely to affect students’ well-being while at school. This makes sense since it is highly likely that if someone is being cyberbullied by classmates, it will occur whether school is in session and they are on-campus or during off-school hours. Also, the damage to victims has been well-documented and can include falling behind in school work, missing school, lowered self-esteem, engaging in self-harm and in the most severe cases, suicides have resulted.
What these laws seem to clearly illustrate is that schools will not be able to merely block social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, if they are going to be held accountable for student interactions on these sites. While many schools currently do block sites, a solution such as iPrism Social Media Security will allow school administrators to monitor and observe student online interactions and not only block inappropriate and hostile postings, but achieve visibility into emerging cyberbullying incidents and intervene early, when it can do the most good.
Here is a link to a complete table of state cyberbullying laws