Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Stop Cyberbullying

Everyone is against bullying. Everyone is also against cyberbullying, especially when it targets children.

Bullying among children is not mere child’s play. It needs the complicity of school administrators and parents to survive.

How can you stop it? Not by understanding it, but by stopping it. You can do that by sanctioning it, by punishing the bullies.

Unless bullying is severely sanctioned it will continue unmolested. Failing to punish the bullies tells them that theirs is merely a harmless prank.

Unfortunately, our culture is too often based on pathos, not sanctions. We want to feel everyone’s pain and we imagine, foolishly, that if bullies were sensitized to the pain they were inflicting on others they would immediately stop doing what they are doing.

Empathy is not the answer. It is not even the question.

Bullies know that if they are ever caught they too will receive a bath of warm empathy. Guidance counselors and school officials will send them for therapy so that they can gain insight into the unresolved issues that they are acting out. The bullying will continue.

Examine the case of Alex Boston. Alex is 14. She lives Georgia and attends middle school.

One day a couple of her friends set up a Facebook page in her name and started posting scurrilous comments on it. These comments portrayed Alex in a very bad light.

Since the incident did not take place on school grounds the administration could do nothing about it. Facebook was informed and did nothing about it. The police could not intervene. Let's call it a picture of adult powerlessness, if not, impotence. 

So, Alex Boston decided to sue her two classmates and their parents for defamation. She had some difficulty finding lawyers who would take the case. You see, there was not a lot of money involved.

Apparently, most lawyers are not in it for the principle.

Does Alex have a case? Attorney Stephanie Rabiner analyzes Boston’s chances in a post on

The attorney's choice to file a libel lawsuit on Alex Boston's behalf is an interesting one. The school couldn't do anything about the teens, reports the Associated Press. With unclear laws, educators are cautious about punishing students for off-campus harassment. Georgia's cyberbullying law also didn't cover the situation, according to the Cobb County police spokeswoman.

Libel law, a type of defamation law, is a very good option in these types of situations. Cyberbullying often involves fake Facebook profiles and nasty online comments. They can ruin a child's reputation and cause severe emotional distress.

Libel statutes prohibit the written publication of defamatory statements. Defamatory statements include those statements that harm the reputation, reflect negatively on the plaintiff's character and that expose the plaintiff to hatred.

Based on the above facts alone, it appears as though the classmates may well have libeled Alex Boston. They created a fake Facebook profile and made racist comments in her name and implied that she is engaged in criminal activity. She stands a good shot at winning her lawsuit.

It’s good that Boston has grounds for her suit. It is good that the bullies will be called to account for their behavior. It is better that the girls’ parents will be forced to answer for their children’s behavior.

As of now, the names of the cyberbullies have not been released. I imagine that it is only a matter of time before they are. Assuming that everyone in the middle school knows who they are by now, one doubts that they will remain anonymous.

I am not familiar with the law in these cases, but the parents named in the suit are adults, so one wonders whether their names will be protected too.

The good thing is that Alex Boston filed suit. Even if she does not win it, the threat ought to communicate a clear message. Obviously, the parents cited will be publicly shamed. At the least, they will have to pay the cost of defending the suit. That will communicate the clearest message. 

How do you stop cyberbullying? Start out by overcoming your squeamishness and your empathy and punish the bullies, whether by suspension or expulsion from school. If that is not possible, sue them and their parents.

If a child knows that being cited for bullying will appear on his high school record or online, don’t you think that he will think twice about doing it? And won’t his parents discipline him more strictly. .

Potential bullies need to know that society has zero tolerance for bullies. They need to know that they will be punished, but that their parents will be held accountable and made to pay for their own dereliction.


the mommy psychologist said...

There used to be a time when you could get away from bullying. But it's not that way anymore. For kids that are being bullied, it now follows them home and everywhere because so much of the bullying happens online. Lots of kids turn to drastic measures to either protect themselves or hurt themselves. It is so tragic. I talk about online bullying and suicide here:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for linking to your excellent blog.