Notwithstanding the convenience, improved communication and access to massive amounts of information the Internet has enabled, modern technology has also brought with it a number of negative consequences. Once relegated to real-world interactions, bullies frequently use the Internet as a virtual playground in which to harass and torment their victims. This type of behavior is so common that Florida passed a law earlier this year making cyberbullying illegal.
Cyberbullying’s tragic consequences
In light of a recent heart-wrenching suicide in Tallahassee, it has become apparent that the old adage regarding sticks and stones is simply no longer true in the digital age. The target of a protracted campaign of Internet-based abuse from her peers, a 12-year-old Florida girl couldn’t take it anymore and jumped to her death from an area silo. Her devastated family can’t help but wonder why their little girl wasn’t protected.
Unfortunately, this case illustrates a growing problem that threatens to get worse. With 4,400 deaths each year, suicide ranks as young people’s third leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost 7 percent of high school-age youths have attempted suicide. Since victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide, the very real threat of cyberbullying cannot be taken lightly.
Florida law makes cyberbullying illegal
What should give Florida's cyberbullying law more teeth is the authority it grants to schools to look into online bullying that is perpetrated even off campus, provided it interferes with victims’ school attendance. Specifically, the law makes it illegal to create pages to impersonate others, post intimidating messages or text such messages.
The Tallahassee girl’s death points to a weakness in the law, however, since the harassment in this case continued online despite transferring to another school and homeschooling. Some officials are now pushing for increased monitoring while balancing considerations related to time, resources and privacy issues.