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Cyber-Bullying Is a Crime: Discussion Essay

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Updated: Nov 12th, 2021

Introduction

It is easy to see the effects of cyber-bullying. A schoolgirl running home crying her eyes out and refusing to leave her room is one example. But this is not only restricted to kids. Cyber-bullying can also happen to adults such as the use of the Internet to harass and torment others with harmful words. It is easy to see the effects of cyber-bullying but it is hard to find out who is the bully making it hard for authorities to pin the blame on the perpetrator of a crime and therefore making victims more vulnerable. One of the most helpful ways to ratify a statute against cyber-bullying is the idea that it must be deliberate and repetitive. Based on this fact one can begin the process of developing statutes that can significantly reduce the occurrence of cyber-bullying.

There is therefore a need to strengthen laws against cyber-bullying. It has to begin first with an accurate definition of cyber-bullying as well as making it extensive to cover every form and shape of this new type of harassment and psychological attack on others. According to experts, cyber-bullying is the Internet’s version of the schoolyard bully. Instead of having a typical in-your-face verbal taunting and sometimes physical confrontation between bully and victim, cyber-bullying does not require physical force only the ability to send text messages, images, and voice messages through cyberspace so that the intended target will know about it as well as the general public. In the context of a school setting a schoolmate or classmate will send messages that are tantamount to bullying but this time around a group of students can join in and make life extremely difficult for the victim.

Dealing with the Web

One of the most important facets of cyber-bullying is the fact that the perpetrator of the crime can use different methods to remain virtually invisible and very difficult to track. One researcher was able to put it succinctly when she wrote about the failure of authorities to recognize the nuances and complexities of this crime and she wrote, “…the range of possibilities, the fluidity with which it is possible to move from one form of technology such as email, MSN, Facebook, MySpace, web-blogs, chat room and so on, and the capacity for millions of people to read and participate in various forms of communication…” make cyber-bullying a difficult not only to define but fully understand (Shariff, 2008). Aside from the complex nature of the problem that requires a Herculean effort to master, it must also be stated that cyber-bullying laws will have to be revised on a regular basis in keeping up with changes in technology.

Defining Terms

According to the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (“CSRIU”), cyber-bullying is sending or posting “…harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or other digital communication devices” (CSRIU, 2009). This means that a computer can be used to send to other computers, a mobile phone can also be a tool that can be utilized to perpetrate this crime. But it will be revealed later that the number of methods of sending or posting messages and images that constitute cyber-bullying is ever expanding. Yet, the basic definition can allow authorities to at least create an extensive means of covering the most important areas of concern such as:

  • Flaming – this is sending an angry or confrontational message through the Internet so that the intended recipient of the said message will get upset and at the same inflame the situation;
  • Online harassment – this is the repetitious sending of hurtful messages using the Internet;
  • Outing/Trickery – Outing is the sending or posting of sensitive or embarrassing information about a person and spreading this information through the Internet or through mobile devices such as cell phones. Trickery on the other hand is using deception to obtain private information and then posting it online for public viewing;
  • Exclusion – it is the deliberate act with the goal of excluding a person from joining an online group (Shore, 2005).

In order to mitigate the impact of cyber-bullying or to create a deterrent so that others will be discouraged to even think about cyber-bullying, the next logical step is to ratify tough laws dealing with this form of harassment. It must be made clear what constitutes cyber-bullying and then inform the general public that there are certain behaviors that can be considered a crime. The preceding section wherein cyber-bullying was defined can be used as a basis for the ratification of statutes dealing with the said crime.

Criminal Intent

The actus reus simply means that the accused is alleged to have committed a crime (Douglas et al., 2006). A witness or some form of evidence testified or give the idea that the said individual is a principal, accessory or accomplice in the perpetuation of a crime (Douglas et al., 2006). This is a foremost step when it comes to creating a statute to control cyber-bullying. The men’s rea on the other hand easily complicates matters because it would be very difficult to prove that the person typing on a keyboard or a keypad had the premeditation to harass or hurt the recipient of a message. For instance, in many cases of violent crimes the perpetrator and the victim were in close proximity to one another. It would be physically impossible for a rapist to have committed the alleged crime if he was 100 miles away. When it comes to cyber-bullying the guilty party can be as far as a thousand miles away and still be able to commit crime. This makes it difficult to establish the crime of cyber-bullying.

Flaming and Exclusion were mentioned earlier as one form of cyber-bullying but the proponent of this study would like to suggest that these two activities should not be considered as criminal acts. This is because this is very difficult to prove and at the same time there can be many people who do these things inadvertently. Thus, a person can be very angry and without thinking of being a cyber-bully went on to express his or her feelings. It is also very hard to determine an angry retort through an e-mail. Others may argue that they can determine exactly but this can easily become controversial and can create a backlog in the judicial system with some unscrupulous people trying to take advantage of the law.

In this regard cyber-bullying statutes must be limited to the two remaining categories: online harassment and outing/trickery. These two activities can be monitored and a pattern can be easily detected. With regards to online harassment a statute must be passed that makes it illegal to repeatedly and deliberately send messages to intimidate, terrify or make life difficult for the recipient of the said message. The mental anguish that resulted from such actions is the reason why cyber-bullying must be considered a crime. But this is easier said than done because it is not enough for a person to commit an act of crime it must be proven that there is men’s rea and that the person sending the message did not do so inadvertently.

When it comes to outing/trickery a statute must be passed making it illegal to use the Internet and mobile communication devices to send hurtful messages especially those that can cause mental distress and besmirched the reputation of the victim through the posting and sending malicious information. There is a need to base this statute on current laws concerning slander and defamation. This time around, the victim can resort to legal remedy if the slanderous statement were not uttered publicly or in print but sent and circulated through cyberspace. But this is merely the beginning; it must be shown clearly that the perpetrator did so with criminal intent.

A distinction has to be made regarding the kind of messages that will constitute what experts describe as, “…the willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text” (Shariff, 2008). This is a very difficult process because it must first be established that the victim was harmed through the posting and sending of electronic messages. It must be shown that the victim suffered tremendously from such actions. The key terms are repeated and deliberate (Shariff, 2008). If the one who sent the message wanted the recipient to suffer psychologically and emotionally – even if the action seemed harmless at first – then this can be considered as bullying.

Conclusion

Without a doubt cyber-bullying must be considered as a crime. The impact of cyber-bullying will be too numerous to mention and the victims of this type of offense, also too many to keep track. The effects of cyber-bullying are easy to see. But the attempt to establish that crime has been committed is very difficult to achieve judging from the nature of the technology used in cyber-bullying. Therefore in order to ratify a law against cyber-bullying it would be prudent to begin with online harassment as well as outing/trickery. These two categories is easier to track, especially when it comes to the criminal intent. At this point, it can be argued that cyber-bullying laws concerning very young children would be very difficult to implement. It would be best to start with adults, specifically the cyber-bullying that occurs between two adults. In this way cyber-bullying laws can be easily developed and refined concerning the fact that an adult victim can easily verbalize the impact of the repetitive and wilful sending of messages with the intent to harm.

References

Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. (2009). Mobilizing educators, parents, students, and others to combat online social aggression. CSRIU. Web.

Douglas, J. et al. (2006). Crime Classification Manual: a standard system for investigating and classifying violent crimes. CA: Jossey-Bass.

Shariff, S. (2008). Cyber-bullying: Issues and Solutions for the school, the classroom and the home. New York: Routledge.

Shore, K. (2005). The ABC’s of Bullying Prevention. New York: National Professional Resources, Inc.

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