For over a year, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick was subjected to relentless cyberbullying, with tormentors calling her "ugly" at the mildest and demanding her to "drink bleach and die" at the worst. Even after moving schools, the bullies continued, for cyberbullying isn't confined to a single geographic location. On September 10, the harassment had become too much for 12-year-old Rebecca. She took the ultimate decision to escape from her tormentors. She jumped to her death from a silo at an abandoned concrete factory. Last week, the two alleged perpetrators of the bullying were released without charge, as cyberbullying isn't classified as a criminal offense. This is not an isolated incident, it's an example of the dreadful consequences a lax judicial system can have - unequipped to deal with the daily occurrence of cyberbullying.
One in six children (3.2 million students) are victims from cyberbullying every year according to recent studies. Cyberbullying, though, falls into a murky grey area of Internet crime whack lacks any federal law to deal with it across the United States. Only a handful of states have laws which cover cyberbullying. When cyberbullying is conducted across state-borders the law becomes far more complicated. Federal legislation is desperately required to ensure the ability to prosecute against cyberbullying across state-borders but to, importantly, categorize it as a criminal offense. State legislation so far has not even made cyberbullying a crime worthy of criminal prosecution even though the effects can be deadly.
Anonymity is the source of power for bullies. Faceless bullies act far more aggressively and threatening online without the fear of discovery. In Rebecca's case the social network site Ask.fm and the app 'Kik' perpetuated the suffering, with bullies given the opportunity to send anonymous messages and create fictitious accounts.
Cyberbullying presents a vicious circle for educators and parents who are often cutout of the process without even the knowledge of the bullying taking place. Traditional bullying is far easier for parents and educators to intervene in. Educating students and parents alike about the dangers of Internet usage and ensuring the lines of dialogue and support remain open must be a top priority for educators as part of their pedagogic duty.
Lawmakers have been too slow to keep pace with the rise of new forms of social media. Legislation is required to combat the rise in cyberbullying and a greater emphasis placed in schools to ensure both parents and teens have better knowledge of the dangers of the Internet. Bullies used to be only limited to the school-playground. Teachers and parents could often intervene early on and prevent further harm from being done. Now, with the Internet, bullies have been able to enter the homes to reach their victims circumventing traditional methods to combat bullying. Cyberbullying is a psychological trauma, with multiple social media platforms for bullies to continually harass their victims. Cyberbullying may be conducted virtually, but the effects of it are real and, at times, fatal.