Feature: Soapbox Musings

Thoughts on Cyberbullying

Author: Robert Weller
Published: June 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm

The phenomenon seems to be spreading. And the reference here is not to the entertainment industry trying to have its way with Internet providers and file sharers.

Much attention has been paid to the issue because in some cases it has led to deaths, including suicides.

The age level for such bullying seems to be dropping and soon be appearing even before children reach puberty.

There is no way, yet, to edit memories, as in the Robin Williams’ movie, “The Final Cut,” though the Internet may be becoming the equivalent of having a chip in your head to record everything in front of you.

Still, it’s probably easier to remove a tattoo than the vision left by a posting. In many cases the piece in question may be saved on hard drives, out of the reach of Internet Websites.

In the U.S., at least, ongoing efforts to give the government the kinds of powers other nations have, such as jailing someone for a Twitter post, would violate rights to free speech.

The sheer volume of postings, in so many different venues, makes it more difficult even than forcing compliance with the most draconian copyright infringement laws.

In the latest effort at using the law instead of going around it for what lawyers might call “self help,” the Atlanta victim of a hurtful Facebook prank has filed a libel lawsuit.

This or a defamation lawsuit cannot be the answer in the vast majority of cases if only because of the cost and the fact that courts are already too busy.
The sophisticated entertainment industry is finding that even its lawyers get turned away by some courts.

A definitive answer, for cyberbullying in the U.S., may be years away. “It seems inevitable that the (Supreme) Court will eventually take an off-campus school-related speech case, but for now, the Court’s approach seems to be simply to allow such cases to percolate in the lower courts, with various judicial approaches being employed. My guess, though, is that the Court may accept such a case within the next five to seven years or so,” writes Justia columnist and lawyer Julie Hilden.

She also writes that in the current case damages likely would be hard to collect.

Also serving as an obstacle is that some states have laws, called SLAPP, that were created for other reasons but could be used to block such suits. SLAPP means “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. They were set up to prevent the courts from being used to limit discourse protected by the First Amendment.

Even so, despite all the obstacles, Hilden is sympathetic to plaintiff Alex Boston for standing up for herself.


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Article Author: Robert Weller

Journalist for 40 years, working in 30 countries and 11 states. Mostly for AP. Coverage has included Columbine, South Africa, Alaska Pipeline, India Gandhi assassination, wars, disasters, art, PTSD, skiing, Liberia, Uganda et al. …

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