Illegal Here, Cyberbullying Appears on Other Legislatures’ Agendas

Illegal Here, Cyberbullying Appears on Other Legislatures’ Agendas

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National concern about cyberbullying has prompted state policymakers to follow North Carolina’s lead by drafting laws prohibiting the practice. So far, five states have proposed laws designed to prohibit electronic harassment. The regulations are designed to protect youngsters from the damaging consequences of cyberbullying. Several teen suicides have been linked to online harassment.

North Carolina adopted legislation in 2009 that made cyberbullying a misdemeanor; youths under 18 still face criminal charges if they are caught harassing others. Lawmakers say that the new regulations are in response to changing technology and media usage by upcoming generations of kids. A legislator from another state said he wanted to stop the masses of bullies who seem to be terrorizing other children through social media.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 48 states have anti-bullying laws on the books. The new legislation is designed to update those rules for the Internet. Specific provisions added to existing rules would, proponents hope, prevent electronic intimidation. Some of the proposals could carry federal punishment that leads to a prison sentence.

Some legal experts worry that the laws might threaten the constitutional right to free speech. This has led some states to limit cyberbullying prohibitions to acts committed while using school-owned computers.

Other opponents of the measures argue that the prohibitions are too vague to make a difference. The issue should not be addressed from a legal standpoint, they say, but rather from a societal perspective. Using the courts to make the issue disciplinary is inappropriate, they claim.

The debate over this issue is sure to continue as policymakers attempt both to protect students and to preserve their rights. Uncertainty remains about whether regulations should address off-campus bullying, and controversy also exists related to school reporting responsibilities.

Source: USA Today, “States look to enact cyberbullying laws,” Yamiche Alcindor, March 19, 2012