We all remember either being the bully who made someone’s life miserable, watching the bully making someone miserable, or being the target of a bully. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the decades is that there is always that kid who feels better when they make someone else feel worse. Just a short decade ago, bullies were not tolerated well, today thanks to new anti-cyberbullying laws, parents may be found liable for the actions of their bullying children.
Not just an issue of bad feelings, cyberbullying is leading to a host of public health concerns. In response to the Retaeh Parsons case, new legislation is being drafted to deal with the consequences of cyberbullying. David Fraser, a lawyer within Canada, is challenging the new anti-cyberbullying law in Halifax. He is representing one of two businessmen in a dispute about the tarnishing of reputations.
The law was drafted to deal with teens and adolescents bullying each other behind the keys of a message-board. When a young girl by the name of Retaeh Parsons reportedly took her life due to sexual content posted about her online, the community said that was enough. Being gang rapped, taped, and then having the event viewed by millions online, it was considerably more than just “bullying”. It quickly became the face of cyberbullying in the new age of the internet. In August of 2013, a new law was enacted that sought to protect victims from being cyberbullies online, enabling those who have been bullied the recourse of being able to sue the perpetrator.
When the two businessmen got into an online dispute, Giles Crouch took the other businessman, Robert Snell to court to sue him for protection using the anti-cyberbullying legislation and won. It halted Mr. Snell from being able to communicate with Mr. Snell online. Mr. Fraser, the council for Mr. Snell, has argued that the protection order put into place was constitutionally unfair and went against the freedom of rights that are guaranteed under the constitution. Being very vague, Fraser believes that, the anti-bullying law was used unjustifiably in this case.
What has been left open and not clearly defined is the definition of “cyberbullying”. It can mean very different things to very different people. Clearly in the case of Ms. Pearson, cyberbullying was sexual content being released without consent. In this case, it was nothing close to being as harmful or threatening in nature. Cyberbullying is defined by communication that can…
be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.
Left open for interpretation, Fraser argues that it has become a magic eraser for anything that is said that may offend someone or hurt their feelings. Getting away from the true intention of the law, it is now being used to stop people from their rights of freedom of speech online or in other places.
Attorney Debbie Brown, arguing on the side of the defence, insists that the new legislation is necessary at a time when people can spread malice that can become viral in very little time. It is the only recourse that many may have to stop the torment of others who seek to hurt their reputation and their livelihood using the tool of social media.
There is no doubt that the debate will continue into the future. The only way to define cyberbullying will be through systematic court cases that hone in on what is merely insult and what is truly harmful to the individual. Very broad-based legislation, those who are for it insist that without anything on the books there is no way for those who are bullied to seek retribution, or to stop their tormentors.
The last thing that anyone wants is for something like the Pearson case to happen again. A reaction to a horrible situation, whether the anti-cyberbullying legislation will continue to be a viable law to stop bullying for the future remains to be seen. The one thing that is for sure is that we are entering into a whole new world of childhood and adolescent “bullying”. How we choose to deal with it will say a lot about who we are as a country and what we will and will not stand for.
Gabriel L. Contact a brain injury lawyer, Boston MA.