In the modern digital age, cyberbullying is one of the most commontypes of crime carried out by individuals of different ages andbackgrounds in the cyberspace. However, it is the young generationincluding school-going children and teens that can continue to spreadand be affected by cyberbullying. According to the Department ofJustice, bullying has evolved from school environments to homes andoutside schools through the cyberspace (Blanch & Hsu 2016). Thus,there is a need to look at cyberbullying from a criminal and legalperspective and the potential impact on victims as discussed.
First and foremost, it is important to understand what cyberbullyingis all about. According to McQuade, Colt, and Meyer (2009),cyberbullying or internet aggression is the use of computers or otherdigital devices to embarrass, scare, threaten, insult or otherwisecause harm to targeted individuals. Given this broad approach, it mayappear that not all forms of cyberbullying can be interpreted ascriminal activities. Some matters of cyberbullying may relate tomorals and ethics. Blanch & Hsu (2016) say that cyberbullying isunwanted hostile behavior that involves “real or perceived powerimbalance that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, overtime" (p.3). The ability to anonymous (Donegan 2012) as well asthe unlimited audience (Sharriff & Hoff 2007) of digitaltechnology also makes this form more dangerous and widespread thanthe traditional form of bullying.
Several social, behavioral, and criminology theories attempt toexplain the causes of cyberbullying. The Social Learning Theoryclaims that individuals imitate bullying behaviors from their friendsand peers. The Choice Theory argues that people choose a particularbehavior so as to fulfil the five basic needs of survival, love andbelonging, power, freedom and fun. In this case, a person may bullyother cyber users just to make himself feel powerful. The SocialConflict Theory states that bullies on the internet are enabled bythe existing social and political systems to suppress the weak. Otherthan these theories, there are some factors that promotecyberbullying.
Today’s modern societies are classified into differentsocioeconomic classes based on various factors. These differentclasses and groupings also exist in the cyberspace. Usually,demographic factors such as age and ethnicity as well as incomelevels influence classes of people on the internet. Persons with moreaccess to digital devices such as mobile phones and tablets are morelikely to be victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying. Surveys havealso reported variations by gender with females teens being morelikely to be victimized compared to their male counterparts (Donegan2012). There are seven major classes on internet users namely:bullies that initiate the action, the followers or henchmen, activesupporters, passive supporters, uninterested onlookers, possibledefenders, and active advocates (ibid). The class of bullies whoinitiate actions have the greatest influence in promotingcyberbullying. The class of active advocates is most active infighting this practice.
Cyberbullying is likely to cause a many social, behavioral, andpsychological problems on the victims. The Department of Justicenotes that the cyberbullying causes psychological, emotional, andphysical stress on the victims (Blanch & Hsu 2016). Mainstreammedia has on numerous occasions covered stories of individuals whohave engaged in murder, suicide, mass shootings, and drug use as aresult of cyberbullying (Donegan 2012). Several studies have alsoassociated cyberbullying to depression, anxiety, and poor academicperformance, low self-esteem, and sleep and eating disorders. Whilethese effects are common in traditional bullying, the internet hasmade them more common and even increased the negative impact onvictims (Shariff & Hoff 2007).
To address the problem of cyberbullying, the federal and stategovernments, and private organizations, have established differentinitiatives to fight the practice. Some of these initiatives createpublic awareness on how to identify and report cases of cyberbullyingor encourage people to stop the habit. Such methods are supported bysecurity agencies and institutions such as schools and colleges. Forinstance, teachers have been receiving intense training on how toidentify cases of cyberbullying, victims, and bullies in schools.Other strategies include offering counseling to minimize the negativeeffects of victimization (Blanch & Hsu 2016).
Again, the criminalization of cyberbullying boosts the war oncyberbullying. The federal Interstate Communications Act (18 USC Sec.875(c)) explicitly prohibits cyberbullying. This means that offenderscan be prosecuted in federal courts. Again, court rulings such as theElonis v. the United States, 135 S. Ct. 2001, 2007 (2015) andJ.S. v. Bethlehem Area School (2000) have provided furtherguidance on the role of schools in fighting cyberbullying. Thus, thelaw enables schools to take action on cyber bullies whose actions arelikely to disrupt the school environment (Blanch & Hsu 2016).
Based on the points addressed above, it is clear that cyberbullyingis a serious issue that cannot be ignored. Given the causes of suchbehavior and the negative implications on victims, it is evident thepractice requires a multifaceted approach. The federal government hasmade the right move in declaring the practice a crime punishable bylaw. Therefore, examining the causes, effects, and prevention methodsof cyberbullying, the paper sought to provide valuable information tothe public, institutional heads, and policy makers on the sensitivityand relevance cyberbullying. Again, from this research, it is clearthat technology developers should invent new methods of addressingthe issue of anonymity in the cyberspace to fight cyberbullying.
Blanch, J. &Hsu, W. (2016). An introduction to violent crime on the internet.United States
Attorneys’Bulletin. Retrieved fromhttps://www.justice.gov/usao/file/851856/download
Donegan, R. (2012).Bullying and cyberbullying: history, statistics, law, prevention and
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McQuade, S., Colt,J, & Meyer, N. (2009). Cyber bullying: protecting kids andadults from
online bullies.New York: ABC-CLIO.
Sharriff & Hoff2007). Cyber bullying: clarifying legal boundaries for schoolsupervision in
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