Cyber Harassment, Free Speech, and the Law
Litigation usually begins to shift legislation to the state and federal levels, and this is starting to show in terms of legal protection for victims of online harassment.
For many Americans, being harassed on the internet is a fact of life. Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that children are particularly at risk. A staggering 20% of 10 to 18 year old children say they are victims of cyber bullying. While this is obviously a trend that needs to be eradicated, those who want to take action face a problem – the right to freedom of expression. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred as to the responsibility of the harasser, the responsibility of the victim and the burden on both the authorities and the platform on which the harassment took place.
Where the law protects
One area where the law absolutely protects children is in caregiving. Nursing is the process by which children are manipulated by online abusers for contactless and sexual contact abuse by making friends with and influencing a child. This can have a long-term impact on a child’s life. As Cornell Law outlines, the United States Code specifically forbids this practice – however, the process of taking care before action is legally a less clear area. Only two states, Illinois and Arkansas, have specific laws aimed at prosecuting abusers for actions taken during the nursing process. As a result, taking action on these issues can be a legally dubious area, which is why a look into civil law is required.
Bullying and taking action
As early as 2012, there were precedents regarding bullying, harassment and care. Wired.com reported that a Georgia teenager sued those who bullied her as well as Facebook, saying they had done nothing to protect her and her family, even after complaints had been made. Since then, several lawsuits have been filed by parties across the country to try to contain the problem. Litigation usually begins to shift legislation to the state and federal levels, and this is starting to show in terms of legal protection for victims of online harassment.
Say No To Bullying Signs; Image courtesy of Andrevruas via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 4.0
Interpretations in law
According to CyberBullying.org, more and more cases involving laws in other states are being tried in courts. They raise Wisconsin law, which lists the use of computerized systems to intimidate other people as an offense. While there is no federal law that specifically prohibits most levels of bullying, this is an encouraging sign that states are not accepting abuse at any level. This extends to computerized systems as well and in the future could also include responsibility for the social media platforms and operators that enable communication that can sometimes become abusive.
Freedom of speech is of course vital and a central component of the country’s democratic ideals. However, there must be limits to this. States are increasingly recognizing this distinction and are taking steps to ensure that this can be addressed through litigation, civil suits, and even misdemeanor crimes. This should improve the situation for children facing online harassment across the country.