Franklin James Cook

“Cyberbullying not epidemic … not killing our children”

In Media, Policy on July 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Larry Magid, a journalist whose roles include Technology Analyst for CBS News, has weighed in with a thought-provoking blog post on legislation that has come to the foreground recently to counter cyberbullying. Here’s his opening paragraph:

The first things you need to know about cyberbullying are that it’s not an epidemic and it’s not killing our children. Yes, it’s probably one of the more widespread youth risks on the Internet and yes there are some well publicized cases of cyberbullying victims who have committed suicide, but let’s look at this in context.

On the topic of cyberbullying “killing our children,” Magid writes that “bullying has always been a problem among adolescents and, sadly, so has suicide.”

In the few known cases of suicide after cyberbullying, there are other contributing factors. That’s not to diminish the tragedy or suggest that the cyberbullying didn’t play a role but — as with all online youth risk — we need to look at what else was going on in the child’s life. Even when a suicide or other tragic event doesn’t occur, cyberbullying is often accompanied by a pattern of offline bullying and sometimes there are other issues including long-term depression, problems at home, and self-esteem issues.

His argument against classifying cyberbullying as an epidemic is that the numbers describing “the extent of the problem [are] all over the map.”

I’ve seen some reports claim that up to 80 percent of online youth have experienced cyberbullying, while two national studies have put the percentage closer to one-third … A recent study by Cox Communications came up with lower numbers, finding that approximately 19 percent of teens say they’ve been cyberbullied online or via text message and 10 percent say they’ve cyberbullied someone else.

His post, titled “How To Stop Cyberbullying” was published yesterday on Magid’s blog at safekids.com, a site he founded to promote Internet safety. He offers these solutions to the problem of cyberbullying:

  1. Identify the children doing the bullying, then work with them on their behavior and on “their needs — including problems at home.”
  2. Deliver to children who bully “educational programs that stress ethics and cyber citizenship.”
  3. Teach “kids … what to do if they are victims of bullying.” He offers, for instance, these safety tips.

Magid advises that “we need to be careful about any legislation that outlaws cyberbullying.” Using the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act (H.R. 1966) as his example, he repeats UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh’s criticism of the bill, which, in brief, is that the behavior it criminalizes is stated in such an overly broad way that a lot of behavior that is not targeted by the law would also be criminalized.

There is a bill before Congress, as well — the School and Family Education about the Internet Act” (S. 1047) — that emphasizes the educational approach to the cyberbullying problem that Magid favors.

[The abridged URL for this post is  bit.ly/bullyingnot .]

Related SPNAC posts:

“Children’s Deaths Cause Anti-Bullying Outcry” at http://tinyurl.com/ChildrensDeaths
“Father Crusades against Cyberbullying after Son’s Suicide” at http://tinyurl.com/FatherCrusades
“Cyberlaws Are Coming into Play around Internet Safety” at http://tinyurl.com/NetSafetyLaws
“Obama Urged To Take the Lead on Internet Safety” at http://tinyurl.com/ObamaInternet
“Verdict Shows Parents, Internet Should Both Protect Kids” at http://tinyurl.com/ProtectChildren

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