Bullying over social media not protected under school, state law

Daphne Yu

One out of every seven students has been or is a victim of bullying from kindergarten to grade 12, according to bullyingstatistics.org. In a world where there are so many different modes of communication, there are even more opportunities for bullies. Social media sites are a breeding ground for cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously,” according to Merriam Webster dictionary online. Though some defend these comments through the first amendment, cyberbullying is still hurtful for the 43 percent of teens who have been victims of cyber bullying in the U.S., according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
Sophomore Jilly Dos Santos was one of these victims, who after writing a controversial article, received a lot of backlash on real-time information network, Twitter. But she generally tries to ignore the hurtful comments, she said.
“Usually I just kind of roll my eyes,” Dos Santos said. It’s “one part superiority complex, two parts hard outer shell, I guess. I just let it roll off of my back because I know that it doesn’t matter and half the time the person who said [the comment] is just an idiot.”
Though Dos Santos may be able to deal with cyber bullying in a healthy way, many others aren’t able to do the same. One out of every 10 students that drops out of high school does so because of repeated bullying. Bullying victims are also two to nine times more likely to consider suicide according to studies by Yale University. And now, with the growing popularity of the internet, there has also been a rise in bullying according to recent bullying statistics. However, the freedom that students exercise on the internet stems from the Supreme Court case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union that declared the internet as a free speech zone in 1997. Though junior Nate Horvit believes that people should be cautious when posting things online because of possible future repercussions, he values a person’s right to freedom of speech.
“It’s a freedom of speech issue and you can pretty much say anything you want [on social media sites], “Horvit said. “And although it’s hard for people, you still have the right to say it. In general you can pretty much say whatever you want and you just have to deal with the repercussions of people not liking you or not getting a job or not getting into college, stuff like that.”
BullyingjHowever, the ability for students to say whatever they want on social media sites can clash with new collaborative efforts to end cyber bullying. For example, Senator Joseph Addabbo and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed into law a new doctrine that protects students from cyber bullying in public schools. The new law is “ designed to strengthen a school’s response to harassment and bullying through improved reporting, investigation, intervention, training and prevention,” according to the nysenate.gov. And others are following suit. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states have enacted legislation against cyber bullying, and 21 already have existing laws. Missouri is one of the 21 states in the nation that currently has laws set in place to prevent cyber bullying in public schools.
With all of the emerging legislation and the measures that legislatures are beginning to take against cyber bullying, it is often hard to decipher the line between it and freedom of speech. However, Horvit believes that there’s no one guideline that a person can use to determine what constitutes cyber bullying.
“It’s really about the person, “Horvit said. “There’s not a whole guideline you can use like, ‘this is over the line,’ but it’s just personally you have to make judgements about yourself and what you want to say and who you want to be and how you want to market yourself to the world through what you post online.”
Though Horvit may think that the decision falls upon the individual, guidance counselor, Leslie Kersha disagrees. She sees the effects that cyberbullying has on students at RBHS and often has cases that deal with it, she said. But she thinks that the responsibility falls on adults to teach the children around them how to appropriately use social media sites, but in a world where the younger generations often are more technologically savvy their parents or guardians, this can be difficult, she said. Regardless, Kersha believes that technology should be used to “support and lift people up,” she said.
“In my mind, it is never [O.K.] to post mean-spirited comments on-line in any form, ever,” Kersha said in an email interview. “To me, this doesn’t have to do with free speech, it has to do with being a human being with integrity. If someone has an issue with someone else, they should address the situation in a mature manner directly with the person. It doesn’t need to be out there for everyone else to see, and if the issue can’t be resolved, the people involved need to let it go. Period.”
From the time when principal Mark Maus was an assistant principal, he recalls most bullying cases as kids being “ignorant” of the toll their actions can take. The bullies he dealt with acted simply because outside instigators “were telling me to do it.” Now with social media, Maus says most cases of cyber bullying occurs through Twitter, Facebook or just simple text messaging. But regardless, cyber bullying is still bullying, Maus said, and RBHS doesn’t “want any of it to happen.”
“I know there have been people who haven’t felt safe at school because of bullying, or emotionally upset about what was said about them.To me, anytime you’re negatively affecting another student, you’re going too far.”
To combat bullying here, especially cyberbullying that is not as physical, Maus encourages teachers and students to develop trusting relationships so these matters can be brought to light.
“The biggest thing we can do is having a really good relationship with the kids so that way if something does happen, they feel comfortable telling an adult and we can intervene,” Maus said. “A lot of things that happen, we don’t know about because we don’t have time to go through 1700 student tweets. If we hear about it we intervene, but there are so much stuff that happens that we don’t know about and kids don’t know are there forever. So I wish that students understood that… it doesn’t go away. I think we’re doing really well with digital literacy, but I wish we could do more.”
With cyber bullying or bullying in general, punishment can then range from conferencing with the student and parents to suspension, Maus said. All of it just depends on the severity and frequency of the act. Maus encourages students to promote the culture at RBHS – where students are accepting of all beliefs and open to new ideas – even if there’s no Big Brother looking over their shoulder.
“We don’t police twitter -we don’t have time. But if it comes to our attention, we would certainly respond. Name calling and stuff like that – I just learned what subtweeting is – it’s just not appropriate. I think we’re better than that and we can treat each other better.”
By Trisha Chaudhary and Daphne Yu
Have you ever been bullied? What do you think about the connection between the freedom of speech and cyberbullying?