Cyberbullying : An In-Depth Analysis of Cybercrime

In the present world, the interaction of people has improved due to the advancement in technology. People are able to communicate easily irrespective of their distances and location in the world. Computers and mobile phones have provided the avenue for the increased interaction. People as social beings are interacting virtually through social media and other technological tools (Tardanico, 2012). However, people with malicious intentions use the technological tools to bully other people. This is referred to as cyberbullying.

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Cyber bullying is a premeditation and malicious antagonistic activity that is demonstrated by a perpetrator towards a victim (Hendricks, 2012). Many young people spend more time texting and on the internet and, therefore, they are culpable to be victimized by their friends and others who have malicious intent and are intent on intimidating and harassing the teens or preteens. The cyber bullies anonymously attack their victims by forging their information on various social sites to cover their tracks.  Bullying in schools has traditionally taken the form of aggression acts that are repetitively perpetrated by students on their fellow students (Kowalski et al., 2014). With the introduction of computers and smart mobile devices, bullying has taken a new turn.  The acts of cyberbullying have led to suicides among many teens who cannot take the stress and pressure associated with being maligned by their peers or anonymous people.  As a result, cyberbullying is a vice that should be stopped completely.

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Evolution of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has evolved from the use of text to the advanced use of various apps on smartphones that lead to the character assassination of the victims. In the 1990s, more people had cell phones and to some extent, some children owned cell phones especially those in middle and high schools. In 2010, more than three-quarters of the teen populations had phones and 2014 evidenced 78 % of teens owning a cell phone. More teens have access to the internet as compared to the last decade. Computers and other mobile devices have evolved greatly, and more information can be shared on the net than before. Cyberbullying got national attention in 2007 after Megan, who was a teenager from Missouri, was hoaxed and repeatedly attacked online by her reportedly fictitious boyfriend and her friends (Mirsky & Omar, 2015). The perpetrators of the cyberbullying were the mother and sister to a classmate of Megan. Such instances have shown the extent to which society has sunk in terms of cyberbullying. A middle school student that targeted the principle and an algebra teacher reportedly created a website. It had threatening and uncouth statements about them.

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The digital age has enabled not only texts to be longer and accessed by many people but also pictures. Some teens have been bullied with pictures that are defamatory and have led to some of the teens committing suicide. Jessica Logan is a teen who committed suicide after nude pictures of her were posted on the internet and were circulated throughout among her fellow students in Cincinnati (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014). A mother and her child perpetrated the act. Such an act to a teen is rather traumatizing, and she lacked the courage to face the students after the posting of the nude pictures. The cyberbullying incident led to the Jessica Logan Act that seeks to encourage schools to prohibit cyberbullying. The ABC news has highlighted the plight of cyberbullied victims recently by airing a documentary titled Bullied to Death in America’s Schools”. The documentary shows the various sad actions that have led to the deaths of teenagers due to cyber bullying. The documentary pointed to the fact that some 14 teenagers had lost their lives by committing suicide. Cyberbullying is an international problem. It is not simply limited to the North America. Bylluing is characterized by an imbalance of power. Therefore, to tackle bullying effectively several measures that would help in tackling the imbalance of power should be implemented.

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People are victims of cyberbullying exhibit certain characteristics. The U.S. Secret Service detailed the characteristics of people who are victims of cybercrime after undertaking extensive investigation. The Secret Service claims that bullying is one of the major factors that make people engage in criminal activities. The shooters who engaged in 12 of the 15 campus shootings in the 1990s had a history of being bullied. Previously, bullying mainly involved intimidation, manipulation, and physical aggressiveness against a weaker individual. It was common in schools. Confiscation of an individual’s lunch money was one of the most common forms of bullying (Peterson, 2012).

However, in the contemporary world, victims of cyberbullying are usually humiliated in public. This makes certain victims of cyberbullying to formulate a plan by committing a stronger negative action against the bully. The campus shootings discussed above may have been motivated by an individual being bullied. In the contemporary world, a rumor can circulate in a school of community within a matter of seconds due to various technological tools. The spread of the information may be so fast that millions of people across the globe may have viewed the information prior to its removal. For instance, some years ago a Freshman from Rutgers University jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his sexual activities with another male student were videotaped and put in the internet. People who put the video may have thought they were simply having fun or bashing the student for engaging in homosexual activities. However, the impact of the activities was severe to both the victim and themselves (Peterson, 2012).

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There has been a significant increase in bullying in the U.S. in the last 30 years. This may be linked to the increase in the number of suicides and homicides cases in certain areas. The motive of bullying is usually about something that the victims cannot change. For instance perpetrators of bullying may dislike individuals due to their hair color, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and appearance.

There is a significant difference in the physical, psychological, and behavioral characteristics of victimization vary in elementary, middle and high school. Bullying in elementary school usually involves name calling and hitting each other. Students in middle school usually have mobile phones, which the parents have purchased for them. The students may use their phones to engage in cyberbullying. Children in high school have access to various electronic devices. They may use computers for educational programs. They also interact with various websites. As such, limited access to electronic devices in elementary schools make bullying of students be restricted to physical and verbal bullying of other students. Students in middle and high school have access to various electronic devices. Therefore, they may start engaging in cyberbullying (Peterson, 2012).

Technology and Evolution of Cybercrime

Computers had the monopoly of posting more content through emails and social sites in the past, but that has changed drastically. The digital age has brought about portable devices that can be carried around quite easily and used for any one’s convenience. The mobile devices have evolved greatly to incorporate various features like cameras and apps that can instantly post any information on the social media that includes Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter among many other which have millions of users (Kowalski et al., 2012). Many apps have access to social media sites, which are linked to the camera, and pictures can be posted instantly without the use of a computer. Also, smartphones have led to a revolution in communication not only in using text messages and calls but also in using pictures taken at a specified time. Therefore, cyberbullying can bring on board many users who know the person and who can post negative comments about him or her. As such, one person can start the cyberbullying while bringing others into it. For example, malicious content can be posted about someone in school and everyone in the school can be able to see the content and even make comments to the victims who as explained above had led to many undesirable actions that have led to death (Schneider et al., 2012). The stressful conditions that occur have often led to suicides or the victim withdrawing him or herself from her peers. Some people may even hack into other accounts and use them in bullying their fellow students without the knowledge of the account user. Various incidences have been reported in social media where unrated content has been posted on their walls that have led to a barrage of unwarranted comments from users of the specific social sites.

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The internet and technological tools are suitable for non-violent forms of bullying. Students in a learning institution may be classified into four categories. These include students who are neither bullies nor victims of cyberbullying, students are only victims of cyberbullying, students who are perpetrators of cyberbullying, and students who are both perpetrators and victims of cyberbullying. A significant proportion of students do not have any involvement with cyberbullying. However, students are either victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying are less likely to notify their parents or other adults about cyberbullying. Parents of the above students do not also know the internet activities of the students. People who are high internet users are more likely to be both cyberbullies and victims of cyberbullying than low internet users.

Technology has helped in democratizing bullying since one does not have to physically overpower the victim. One can simply log on, create a fake identity, and start bullying others. Instead of whispering behind the victim, the insults can be posted on social networking sites for everyone to read. Instead of an individual having to silently listen to a phone conversation, the individual can watch incriminating videos of the individual on a computer screen. In addition, instead of a popular clique in school refusing to let a certain student sit with them during lunch, people in the clique may use various technological tools to ensure that the victim is not in anybody’s list.

Despite the fact that a significant number of 14 to 24 year olds acknowledge the fact that digital abuse is a serious problem to people in their age bracket, very few of them believe what they post online can hurt them in the future. In the contemporary world, a significant number of 14 to 24 year olds engage in naked sexting. Sexting refers to sending nude sexually suggesting pictures using a phone or online. Time Magazine ranked sexting as the number one buzz word in 2009 (Stephey, 2009). Females are more likely to send naked pictures of themselves to other people. On the other hand, males are more likely to receive the nude pictures of the females. According to a study undertaken by MTV and AP in 2009, 61% of people who send naked pictures have been pressured by other people to also send them nude pictures. In addition, approximately 20% of people who receive sext messages pass them along to other people (AP-MTV, 2009).

The snowballing effect of sexting may be severe. For instance, an 18 year old Ohio girl committed suicide after her ex-boyfriend shared nude photos that she had sent him to other students. The students distributed it to other people. When the girl reported to authorities in an attempt to stop the distribution of the photos, the harassment of the girl by other students increased. The parents of the girl filed charges against the ex-boyfriend, several classmates, and the school for failing to prevent the harassment.

Legislation Related to Cyberbullying

Despite the fact that cyberbullying does not involve physical contact or audible insults, it may be very traumatizing to the victim. Use of of social media and mobile communications makes the offensive statements be viewed by all friends, family, and acquaintances of the victim. Therefore, the embarrassment and shame make cyberbullying have severe consequences.

Until recently, there were no laws that focused on addressing cyberbullying. However, legislators have not been blind to the significant increase in the number of cyberbullying incidences, which have been highlighted by the media. Some of the instances have resulted in tragic consequences such as suicides and shootings in school. This has led to the passing of laws in some states. However, the laws usually leave the implementation of various measures prescribed in the letter of the law in the hands of school officials. Therefore, in most instances, cyberbullying is treated as a civil case instead of a criminal case. In 2014, 49 of the 50 states had laws on cyberbullying. 20 of the states specifically stated cyberbullying in the laws. In addition, there are very few state policies that address cyberbullying that occurs outside the school. However, there are various laws that enable schools to intervene in instances where cyberbullying occurs outside the school but interrupts leaning in the school (Michelson, 2015).

Currently, there are no federal laws on cyberbullying. However, this does not imply that Congress has not tried to pass legislation on the crime. In 2008, Congress’ attempt to pass the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act failed. However, federal civil right laws that prevent discriminatory harassment apply to federally funded schools (Kenley, 2012).

It is difficult to understand state laws on cyberbullying. Most state laws on cyberbullying claim that cyberbullying should be tackled at the school level. They require schools to implement policies that would help in stopping the occurrence of cyberbullying. The state laws acknowledge that it is the authority of schools to discipline students who engage in cyberbullying. As such, there are very few criminal codes that specifically deal with cyberbullying (Kenley, 2012).

Limitations and/or Gaps Related to Legislation on Cyberbullying

Most U.S. states have enacted laws that require schools to create or update their policies to help in tackling cyberbullying. However, schools can only the students who engage in cyberbullying. Certain states allow students to discipline students who engage in cyberbullying if there is evidence to suggest that the cyberbullying interrupts the school environment. However, the laws have various limitations. This is due to the fact that the American criminal justice system is very protective of an individual’s right to freedom of speech. Therefore, courts rarely term cyberbullying as sufficiently disruptive. This implies that in most instances, schools do not have the authority to discipline students who engage in cyberbullying (Michelson, 2015).

Japanese, Canadian and British authorities have various statutes that facilitate the prosecution of children who engage in various criminal activities related to cyberbullying. These include nuisance, communication threats and use of obscene communications. In the U.S. several individuals have been charges in instances where there is severe bullying. However, authorities are usually unable to prosecute the cases. This is due to the fact that criminal statutes for the laws specify the types of contacts that the perpetrator should have with the victim to be prosecuted for the alleged crimes. The laws have added electronic communication in an attempt to tackle this problem (Holt, Bossler & Seigfried-Spellar, 2015).

However, law enforcement agencies can only prosecute people only in severe cases of cyberbullying. Most cases of cyberbullying do not reach the high levels required for them to be termed as criminal harassment or stalking. This is because criminal harassment and stalking require the victims to fear that they would be physically harmed. Therefore, since cyberbullying does not involve physical violence of the victim it is difficult to prosecute the perpetrators (Michelson, 2015).

Cyberbullying may be tackled using two strategies. The internet-real name is one of the strategies that would help in tackling cyberbullying. This requires individuals to provide their identification to the website operation prior to posting comments. Therefore, if there is a lawsuit, the website operation would provide the information to the relevant authorities. Howe, the major limitation of this strategy is that it suppresses free speech and increases the risk of identity theft. Enactment of laws that criminalize cyberbullying would also help in tackling cyberbullying. For instance, after Megan Meier committed suicide due to being bullied online by a mother of one of her former friends, several towns and cities in Missouri enacted laws that addresses cyberbullying in response to the suicide. However, the laws simply implied that the victims of cyberbullying and their families have limited legal rights to prevent cyberbullying (Holt, Bossler & Seigfried-Spellar, 2015).

Penalties for Engaging in Cyberbullying in California

California defines cyberbullying as any form of harassment, intimidation, or annoyance of an individual through electronic means. It is a crime under certain instances. According to the California law, there are two types of online or electronic conduct that are classified as criminal. These include posting personal information to cause feat and use of electronic devices to harass. According to the California law, any person who posts or transmits information on the personal identification data of another individual or a harassing message on another individual to case unreasonable fear for the safety of the individual or his or her family is committing a misdemeanor. The California penal codes 422, 653.2, and 653m prescribe the punishment that the perpetrator should be subjected to. The penal codes also detail the punishment for an individual who uses obscene language or threatens to injure an individual or the property of another individual (Michelson, 2015).

As such, California classifies both forms of cyberbullying as misdemeanor. An individual convicted of misdemeanor in California faces a punishment of imprisonment for a maximum period of one year, a maximum fine of $1,000 or both. California Assembly Bill 86 gives schools also have a right to suspend a student or recommend the expulsion of a student who engages in cyberbullying in California (Michelson, 2015).

Degree to Which the Penalties Are Adequate For Penalizing the Offender

The penalties on cyberbullying are not adequate in penalizing the offender. They require the involvement of schools. Schools can only suspend or expel students who engage in cyberbullying. This is despite the fact that cyberbullying may have severe consequences on the victim. The Megan Meier case highlights the severe consequences of cyberbullying. Simply suspending or expelling a student who engages in cyberbullying would is not a sufficient penalty is the consequences of cyberbullying on the victim are severe. It is also wrong for the criminal justice system to classify cyberbullying as a misdemeanor that attracts a punishment of a fine of not more than $1,000, a jail term of not more than one year, or both. The life of an individual who commits suicide due to cyberbullying is not worth a mere $1,000 if it is possible to quantify it in monetary terms.

Challenges Law Enforcement Face in Their Efforts to Prevent and Address Cyberbullying

The internet enables people in different locations to communicate as if they were net to each other. As such when one of the parties engages in a crime it would be difficult for law enforcement agencies to prosecute the individual to jurisdictional issues. Jurisdictional issues are some of the major challenges that law enforcement agencies face in their efforts to tackle cyberbullying. An act that is illegal in one state may not be illegal in another state. Living in a location where the activity is not even a crime complicates the issues. Law enforcement agencies can only arrest people who are within their jurisdiction. For instance, a police officer in California does not have the authority to arrest an individual in Texas. In addition, the FBI does not have the authority to arrest an individual in Italy (Kowalski, Limber & Agatston, 2012).

Law enforcement agencies also have different job responsibilities, missions, and cultures that provide different expectations on the definition of cyberbullying, how to prevent it, and the most appropriate responses to bullying. Schools and law enforcement agencies have different laws that control their operations. For instance, law enforcement agencies ensure that people uphold the law whereas schools have a school code of rules. This poses a huge challenge since schools play a critical role in addressing cyberbullying. Therefore, it is vital for schools and law enforcement agencies to have agreements that detail the measures both school personnel and law enforcement agencies should take to tackle law enforcement agencies (Kowalski, Limber & Agatston, 2012).

People engage in cyberbullying anonymously. Screen names and fake e-mail accounts block the identity of the bully. This makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies, the bullied individual and schools to determine the identity of the perpetrator (Kowalski, Limber & Agatston, 2012).

Conclusion and Recommendations

Cyberbullying is an evil that has greatly affected most teens and should be brought to a stop to prevent any undesirable acts like suicides from taking place (Slonje et al., 2013). Social sites should educate teens, encourage them to report any user who posts malicious content that is not true, and ensure that the teens know how to block such users should they surface on their walls. Initiative should thus be taken to deal with the vice and prevent further accidents involving teens. Policy makers should also pass legislation that would help in tackling the vice. It is vital for the legislation to consider the challenges facing current legislation on cyber crime.

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