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July 18, 2008


It would be helpful if before posting comments, the issue were fully researched. There are existing statutes in most states that address harmful speech - criminal harassment, hate speech, and the like. Sometimes these statutes have not been updated to apply to electronic communication and it is important that they are.

Th Canadian Teacher's Federation made a recommendation related to criminal issues in the context of an extensive document that focused primarily on prevention and education. Their specific recommendation was: Making amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada which identifies that using information and communication technology to convey a message which threatens death or bodily harm or perpetuates fear and intimidation in another constitutes a punishable offence under the Code.

If the Criminal Code of Canada has not already been amended to address harmful electronic speech, it should. But it is important to understand that very, very few incidents of cyberbullying will meet this level of harm.

In the U.S. there are efforts to update criminal statutes and efforts to enact statutes to require schools to have bullying prevention policies and practices in place or to add cyberbullying language to existing statutes addressing bullying prevention. There is also an effort to provide increased penalties for assault crimes when they are also videotaped for posting online. All of this is wise and good.

Beyond these steps, it is unwise to focus on criminalization of what is, unfortunately, common youth behavior. Efforts to address this concern must focus on prevention and effective intervention.

It is of continuing concern to me that NCPC will not make the actual survey and responses public. It would be exceptionally helpful to those of us who are working on a day to day basis to address this concern to have the actual data. In fact, you have mis-cited your own data. 59% of young people think that the cyberbully thinks it is no big deal, not they do not think it is a big deal. It is also important to note that approximately half of the young people who indicated they were cyberbullied (although it is unknown how you asked this question) also reported that they were not bothered. Sometimes the receipt of harmful communications is truly no big deal. A certain amount of lack of civility is to be expected and simply dealt with.

The major challenges to addressing cyberbullying are the lack of parent involvement in the online lives of their children and the disinclination of some school officials to become involved in what they perceive to be off-campus speech. In fact, if the cyberbullying involves students who are also at the same school, it is highly likely there will also be a harmful impact at school. To better help school officials, they need to know what the legal standards are related to formally responding to such situations and know how to effectively respond either formally or informally. The most effective responses are grounded in restorative justice and empowerment of the target - not punitive responses. It is also important that safe school personnel and educational technology personnel collaborate to address this, and other, youth risk online issues.

We also need to encourage savvy and caring young people to be involved in effective prevention of online harm within their online communities. We can help them understand why this is important to do so and how.


Thank you for leading off this discussion with your thought-provoking comment. I wrote this blog to neither support nor malign the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s call for anticyberbullying legislation, but to solicit comments on whether similar legislation would be an effective way to deal with cyberbullying in the United States. I thought that because some states are considering anticyberbullying legislation that its effectiveness would be a good topic for discussion.

You are correct in pointing out that it’s not that 59% of teens think that cyberbullying is not a big deal, but that 59% of teens polled thought that the cyberbully probably didn’t think his or her cyberbullying actions were a big deal. The error was mine; thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Although NCPC has not taken a stand on whether cyberbullying legislation would be an effective way to curb cyberbullying in the United States, NCPC does support your idea that parents need to get more involved in their children’s online lives and we are working to spread that message.

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