Cyber-Bullying and Social Media

Posted by Geoffrey E. SpoffordDec 13, 20130 Comments

by Geoffrey Spofford

With "social media" such as Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter so prevalent you might think the world would become a "friendlier" place. It is not uncommon for "Facebookers" to have thousands of "friends", a virtual impossibility only a few years ago. The explosion of "friends", however, has resulted in increased opportunities for bullying through the use of electronic media, i.e."cyber-bullying." As a result of the highly publicized incident in South Hadley, Massachusetts where a high school girl took her own life following instances of repeated cyber-bullying by classmates, the Legislature enacted an anti-bullying statute, G.L. c.71 §37O, which became effective in May 2010.

Consider the recent local incident in which pictures of 17 students were taken from their Facebook accounts and posted on a pornographic website, which included child pornography. The pictures were not doctored in any way and the individuals whose photos were stolen by their "friends" were not unclothed. In return for the postings the "friends" received "credits" to gain access to higher levels of vivid and graphic pornography.

The Massachusetts anti-bullying statute defines bullying as "the repeated use of [an]...electronic expression...directed at the victim that:...(iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victims;...or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of the school." Bullying specifically includes cyber-bullying, defined as the use of technology or any electronic communication including "the distribution by electronic means of a communication which creates any of the conditions enumerated in the bullying definition." Bullying is specifically prohibited from any location if the bullying "creates a hostile environment at school for the victim and/or substantially disrupts the education process."

In this context, the victims attending school and sitting next to those "friends" who posted their pictures on the offending sites experienced a hostile environment and their education was materially and substantially disrupted. A school, faced with such a situation, must deal quickly with the results and the consequences of the cyber-bullying to protect the victims, up to and including expelling the offenders.

If your child encounters a problem around cyber-bullying remember that Massachusetts has implemented a law to protect him or her.