Cyberbullying: California Takes Aim at Cyberbullies with New Law
Remember the days of prank calling? …like that time you and your friends pretended to be somebody you didn’t like in school so you could order 10 pizza pies delivered to their home? Or what about that time your dad impersonated a police officer when he called the girl who was bullying you to scare her off? Okay, maybe that was just my life. Still, impersonation has come a long way since then and is no longer so innocent.
Effective January 1st, a controversial new law in California makes the creation of a fake Facebook account for the purposes of bullying a crime. The law targets criminal “e-personators” and addresses the original impersonation law which was written in 1872. Now, individuals who create fake profiles and email addresses to “harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud” someone online will be charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $1,000, and may also serve jail time up to one year.
The law, authored by California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), is in response to a growing trend of cyberbullying cases across the country in 2010, many of which led to tragic cases of suicide (or bullycide) including New Jersey teen Tyler Clementi, Massachusetts teen Phoebe Prince, and 13-year-old Texan Asher Brown.
“As a Silicon Valley legislator, I’m nothing but enthusiastic about technology. But the question is, is the technology used wisely and appropriately?” Simitian stated in a press release. “This (‘e-personation’) is one area where some constraint appeared necessary.”
New York and Texas have also recently updated their online harassment laws to include impersonation as a crime, although the Texan law applies only to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Other states are likely to follow suit.
So, what does this mean for parents? First, parents must remember that kids who are bullied often don’t speak up because, among other things, they are afraid their Internet access will be cut off. In fact, CNN reports that only 5% of middle-schoolers tell their parents when they’ve been cyberbullied. For this reason, it’s important that parents be aware of the tell-tale signs that their child may be a victim of cyberbullying:
1. Is your child depressed, angry, or moody?
2. Does your child seem unusually withdrawn?
3. Has your child fallen behind in school work lately?
4. Does your child have a sudden lack of interest in school activities and friends?
5. Is he or she jumpy after receiving an Instant Message, email, or text message?
6. Is your child upset after using the computer or cell phone and seems afraid to use either?
7. Have you noticed a change in your child’s sleep patterns (too much or too little)?
8. What about a change in your child’s appetite (loss or gain)?
9. Have you received strange phone calls or packages at your home?
10. Are you aware of any bullying that your child engaged in previously?
Second, report it. If you suspect your child is a victim of cyberbullying, don't be afraid to contact your child’s school administrators and local authorities with evidence. For more information on parental tips regarding cyberbullying, check out our Pocket Guide for Parents of Bullied Kids. Also, please download a FREE cyberbullying poster for your community or school to help promote cyberbullying awareness and prevention.
Tagged as: bullying, cyber bullying, cyber laws, Facebook Safety, Internet Safety, internet safety for kids, MySpace, parenting, parenting tips, social networking safety, teens online health, text messages