The “Cyber Struggle”

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

In an earlier post entitled “Navigating the Web of Legislation”, I discussed how in 2012, Albany County attempted to respond to cyberbullying by passing a law that makes participating in cyberbullying, a crime. This law was the response to a case involving a 15 year old high school student by the name of Marquan Mackey-Meggs, who was also the first to be charged under this law. The then teenager, who was a student of Cohoes High School, created a Facebook page entitled “Cohoes Flame page”. The contents of this page included graphic and sexual comments about his peers ranging between ages 13 to 16. Mackey-Meggs would post photos of other students and would include insulting captions about whoever was in the photo. He identified some of the students that were listed on his page as individuals he has performed sexual acts with. He also accused some students of being promiscuous, listing their alleged sexual partners, and labeling some of them as “sluts”.
Police were able to track down Mackey-Meggs by his IP address and charged him as an adult with eight counts of violating the Albany cyberbullying law as well as harassment. He told police the page was meant to be funny and it sounds to me as if he were trolling. As mentioned in an earlier post, trolling entails making nasty comments about others via the internet with the intent to inflict emotional pain as well as get a rise out of viewers.
The Cohoes judge dismissed the harassment charges but not the charges on cyberbullying counts which can result in a fine of up to $1000 as well as one year in prison. Mr. Mackey-Meggs pleaded guilty to one of the counts of cyberbullying, but only on the condition that he could challenge if the law was constitutional in higher state courts. His sentence was three years probation.
Summer of 2014, New York’s highest court deemed Albany County’s cyberbullying law unconstitutional being that it is too broad and it also violates the First Amendment’s protection of speech. Albany County Local Law C’s description of cyberbullying goes as follows: “sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person”. Because the law was deemed as too broad, the courts are in the process of narrowing it down.
The majority of cyberbullying for teenagers does not happen via email, it happens via social media networks. The intent of the law is good and lawmakers are acknowledging the fact that cyberbullying is a problem that is only worsening as technology continues to advance. What is difficult is defining what actually constitutes as bullying. I supposed extreme examples of aggression, such as insisting someone kill themselves, could easily be classified as bullying. But what about the expression of other forms of negativity that are not as extreme? There’s also no way to include every single word in the dictionary one could use to inflict harm as examples of bullying and words can easily be interpreted differently. Lawmakers have their work cut out for them, but they are indeed trying.

 

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Comments
  1. I agree that the majority of the bullying online takes place in social media networks, I wonder if specific policies exist for them. Check out what Seattle Middle Public schools are doing to combat cyber bullying.

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  2. bg2454 says:

    Dear Cease Cyber Bullying —

    Your post, and the note in which it ended on, reminded me of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” comment in regards to how we should even define cyberbullying in a law. As you yourself reflected on, while legislation to curb cyber bullying is well-intentioned, it runs affront to the basic constitutional guarantees afforded in the First Amendment’s Right to Freedom of Speech. Could a law be narrowly tailored then to meet the needs to curb cyberbullying while also protecting that fundamental right? — I don’t know honestly. But a conversation regarding that should be had, and I thank you for starting it. If you want to see what I mean by Justice Stewart’s infamous words, check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it

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    • aad2168 says:

      Although lawmakers are attempting to tailor the law to curb cyberbullying without violating the First Amendment, it is a very thin line dividing the two and I am not sure how confidant I am that they will succeed. Thanks for the link, I will take a look at it.

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  3. tunchsyn says:

    Dear Aisha,

    You have made a very good point of the looseness of the term, and I agree that the definitive clarity is highly necessary. This will not only make it easy for the rule appliers but also provide the internet users a definitive framework or guideline for the actions to be refrained. Actually everyone knows about bullying or bullying actions or behaviors and that they should not conduct, but clear definition and punishment might deter people from bullying. Since usually kids or teenagers bully, I believe school and parental involvement on this issue might also help.

    Kind wishes,
    Huseyin

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  4. This article is a provocative reminder of the need for intervention in cyberbullying cases. I took a class at Syracuse where I studied the concept of bullycide. Just as it sounds, suicide from bullying. My research led me to discover that many young adults commit suicide following being bullied, but what’s surprising is that a large part of this bullying occurs online. Moreover, LGBT are often affected by cyberbullying, which can lead to unwanted consequences. Rise Against had a song called “September’s Children” where they address this issue.

    Nice post. Thanks.
    Brad

    Liked by 1 person

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