What Makes Cyber-Bullying Laws Work?


Andrew Cuomo had decided to fight cyber-bullying, and recent reports indicate that he and several legislators are working to OK a bill before the legislative session’s end.

This isn’t the first time cyber-bullying legislation has come up in New York. However, uncertainty about how to handle this kind of behavior has come to light recently, as outrage has broken out over Dharun Ravi’s 30-day jail sentence.

So we decided to chat with a couple cyber-bullying experts to learn more about these type of laws and what they need to include to actually prevent internet intimidation.

Dr. Joel Haber, a clinical psychologist and anti-bullying specialist, told us that any law must make clear disciplinary boundaries — whether schools are responsible for electronic behavior, that is.

“It used to be that the boundaries ended at the schoolyard, but with virtual issues it’s a community issue,” he said. Any law, he said, must also make sure to include educational elements, so that parents, kids, and educators know what cyber-bullying is in the first place.

Parry Aftab, an internet privacy and security lawyer, founded anti-bullying concernWired Safety. She has advised Andrew Cuomo when he worked as attorney general, and she works with current A.G. Eric Schneiderman on virtual law issues.

Aftab has also pushed the state to pass legislation against cyber-bullying. She too said that ironing out boundaries is key.

“If two kids get in a fistfight at my house in my house on a Sunday, the school has no authority to discipline them. Some schools have taken a pretty active role in trying to discipline students. When they do take action, if they get sued, they lose. So they’ve very limited jurisdiction. These rules were never designed for the internet.”

With cyber-bullying legislation, she explained, there are two main types of laws. One gives schools more authority. The other changes the law so that cyber-bulling behaviors get considered misdemeanors. This way, law enforcement officials can investigate and make arrests.

“You need something that criminalizes activity that needs to be criminalized,” she told the Voice.

In Aftab’s opinion, the most powerful legislation would bring about both — the best kind of law, she says, would empower schools and make illegal dangerous cyber-behavior.