Today is the start of anti-bullying week and we want to raise the topic of cyber bullying and get people talking about it. We all know that the internet can be a great force for good information, but unfortunately the opposite is equally as true. The way children behave online can sometimes be cruel and can equate to persistent harassment because the online world is changing at such a pace, the law struggles to keep up with it.
The sad fact is that these incidents of cyber bullying can leave permanent damage to children who become victims of it and I’m sure we’ve all read tragic tales about children who have taken their own lives as a result of online bullying. Statistics from the Cybersmile Foundation, the cyber bullying charity, highlight that one in three children in the UK suffer from cyber-bullying and this demonstrates the need for more stringent anti-cyber bullying laws.
Cyber bullying has proven to be linked to teenage depression and incidents of self-harming and there are numerous cases up and down the country where children, particularly teenagers, have not been able to cope with the relentless bullying and have taken drastic, and sometimes fatal action. Unfortunately, incidents of attempted suicides are not uncommon reactions to incidents of persistent cyber bullying and it sadly highlights how many children believe they have nowhere to turn to in order to find help.
So where does the law stand when it comes to cyber bullying?
At the moment cyber bully is not classed as a specific criminal offence in UK law, but there are criminal internet bullying laws such as the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, that can be applied in certain cases. If the bullying is conducted through a mobile phone in the form of anonymous and abusive phone calls or texts, then the laws associated with the Telecommunications Act 1984 can be applied. In addition, the Communications Act 2003 can be applied if offensive, obscene, indecent or menacing subject matter is sent electronically.
When these cases come to court, it is often the infringement of the above acts that are called into play to gain a prosecution. However, there is still no specific cyber bullying legislation in place to deal with all the complexities.
As far as managing the situation in schools is concerned, all UK state schools are obliged to have anti-bullying policies under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Independent schools are also required to have similar policies in place as part of the Education Regulations for Independent Schools 2003. Within these policies, there should be standards for dealing with acts of cyber bullying and this may differ from school to school.
Dealing with the challenges
The reality of the situation is that the law surrounding cyber bullying can be shrouded in complexity. There are legal challenges in defining cyber bullying and how this affects freedom of speech. There are also challenges in policing online offences, what constitutes repetition of bullying i.e. if somebody re-tweets an act of online bullying, are they equally as culpable? The part that social media sites play in creating the platform for cyber bullying is also being debated.
However, just because something is complex doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tackled. There is no doubt that cyber bullying is emerging as something that young people unfortunately have to deal with on an all too regular basis and the legal system, despite the complexities, is increasingly being geared to deal with these problems head on.
Anti-bullying week is the ideal time to highlight these issues but we shouldn’t wait for one week in the year to raise them. The worse thing anyone can do is suffer in silence when it comes to cyber bullying and we urge anybody who may be a victim to speak out now. Please visit to http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week/ for more information.