New York became the 15th state to pass a cyberbullying law as the legislation was signed this week. It becomes effective as of July 1, 2013. According to the terms of the new law, teachers who become aware that a student is being bullied online are required to report it to school administrators within one day. As with other state cyberbullying laws, the New York law covers all forms of electronic communications including emails, instant messaging and social networking sites.

In signing the legislation, Governor Andrew Cuomo commented, that “We must to all we can to ensure that every child in New York State feels safe in the classroom,” Although the law doesn’t include a specific criminal charge associated with cyberbullying, it does require that school administrators work closely with their staffs and police to assure that incidents of cyberbullying are reported and that preventative measure are adopted by schools. The law also requires that schools respond to off-campus incidents of cyberbullying “when they would reasonably be expected to cause disruption at school or cause students to fear for their safety, interfere with their mental or emotional health or interfere with school performance.”  Districts are also required to appoint someone responsible for receiving reports of bullying and establish a process for parents and students to report such incidents. School officials are required to thoroughly investigate any reports of cyberbullying they receive.

This legislation mirrors cyberbullying laws passed in other states, a response to the increase in these incidents, which have resulted in the suicide of some vulnerable victims. While all states except Montana have laws against bullying, 15 states, including New York, specify cyberbullying in their legislation. The states with cyberbullying laws include: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and New Hampshire. Five more states have proposed cyberbullying legislation.

Cyberbullying is a Growing Trend

 The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyberbullying or electronic aggression as  “Any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs) or text messaging.” Experts point out that it is the “repeated” instances of spreading rumors or other harmful content that constitutes true cyberbullying.

Recent data compiled by the website Internet Safety 101 report that 43% of teens aged 13 to 17 say they have experienced some sort of cyberbullying in the past year.

In the Pew survey of online behavior of 12-17 year-olds, they reported the following:

  • 32% of the teens surveyed reported being the targets of a range of troubling and/or intimidating online activities from their peers or anonymous sources:
    • 15% said that a private message they had written was posted or forwarded without their permission
    • 13% reported that someone was spreading rumors about them online
    • 13% said they had received a threatening or aggressive message from someone
    • 6% said embarrassing pictures of them had been posted online
  • 38% of girls say they were bullied online, while 26% of boys reported they had been. Girls in the 15-17 age group reported the most bullying – 41% — more than any other group
  • For the teens who use social networking sites, 39% reported being cyberbullied compared to 22% of teens who don’t engage in social media activities
  • Of teens who use social media, 88% report that they have witnessed someone being mean or cruel to another online, with 12% saying this is a ‘frequent’ occurrence.
  • Bullying still occurs at school more often than online but the survey also showed that students who are cyberbullied are more likely to also be bullied at school
  • Parents at a rate of one in six say they know that their child has been bullied on social media sites and in over half of these cases, their child was bullied multiple times.
  • Of students considered heavy users of social networking, those who spend more than three hours per school day on social media sites, the study found them 110% more likely to be a victim of cyberbullying.