The Bully on the Virtual Playground

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With thousands of kids spending countless hours texting on their phones and frolicking on the virtual playground created by Facebook and other social media sites, it was inevitable that the same bad behaviors affecting the real world would carry over into cyberspace. The press has labeled the use of electronic media to criticize, threaten, embarrass or intimidate as “cyberbullying,” and recent incidents of “cyberbullying” by teens, in some cases leading to the suicide of the victim, have received a significant amount of attention. As society tends to do with an array of social ills affecting our youth, we have looked to the public school system to address the issue. Although efforts by school officials and politicians to curb harmful behavior are laudable, because cyberbullying involves the use of words and expression, efforts by state and federal legislatures, city councils and schools to limit such behavior necessarily bring into question constitutionally protected free speech rights. Before we even reach the constitutional issues, however, we should first consider whether the schools have the same authority to patrol the ethereal cyber playground comprised of bits and bytes as they do to oversee the physical playground comprised of swings and jungle gyms.

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Published In: Communications & Media Updates, Constitutional Law Updates, Education Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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