Penalties For Cyber Bullies

October 21, 2009

Schoolyard bullying is a problem that has been around for generations.

In the past, whatever a person might face in their work or school environment, the problem was contained. Home would be a space of both physical and psychological refuge.

The internet is causing a breakdown of the barriers of time and space; this is exciting and promising for some areas of our lives, and frightening for others.

Cyber-bullying is an increasingly pressing issue. Most would be aware of the infamous Megan Meier case, where a 13-year-old girl committed suicide, allegedly because of a cruel cyber hoax set up by her former friend’s mother.

Megan Meier

Megan Meier

Courtesy: Tina Meier (ABC NEWS)

Megan MeierAccording to article “Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide

“When a cute boy befriended Megan on the social networking site MySpace, the two formed a quick connection during their more than month-long relationship.”

Turns out ‘Josh Evans” was simply a hoax account, however:

“The mother  created a fictitious profile in order to gain Megan’s trust and learn what Megan was saying about her daughter.”

More recently, a woman who was already had a protective order taken out against her violated it, harassing the victim via Facebook:

“Shannon Jackson, a 36 year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee previously had been accused of harassing, threatening and verbally abusing Dana Hannah and had a protective order put in place banning Jackson from “telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with the petitioner.”

Apparently, Jackson jumped onto the popular social networking site and sent Hannah a ‘poke.’

(See the full article: “Woman Arrested For Facebook Poke“)

Bullying is no new phenomenon. What is disturbing is that the internet can amplify the problem so that the victim is perpetually exposed to potential attacks. The emotional attachment to home as a ‘safe place’ is broken. I would speculate intrusive anxieties and fears become as intense as when the victim is at school or at work – in direct contact with the bully.

I believe that the Megan Meier’s case demonstrates not only that the consequences of this can be extreme, but also highlights the additional problem of anonymity on the internet. The bully has been traditionally typecast as the coward, and the internet provides the perfect impetus for a bully to harass and abuse someone without having to face the consequences of getting caught.

Perhaps better education on how young people should respond to cyber bullying is the answer.

I think, though, the Australian Government should seriously consider tough penalties in schools, similar to what some European countries have introduced. See “£1,000 fines for parents whose children are cyber bullies.