Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

Summary:Does 'cyberbullying' actually exist? Is Facebook or text messaging to blame, or just a conduit to the inevitable: people taking advantage of a neutral technology?

The Generation Y could be remembered for great people and trendsetting things; from Zuckerberg and Facebook, to a wave of new thinking and communication habits, to an entire culture where technology becomes a centrepiece of the lives we live.

We, as well as our younger siblings the Generation Z, should also be remembered for 'cyberbullying, where people are abused, taunted and pushed to suicide through the means of technology that offers instant and multiple points of contact and anonymity.

But a recent blog post by Anil Dash critically analyses whether 'cyberbullying' exists, and whether technology is the root cause or just a conduit to inevitability.

High profile cases of cyberbullying have been reported in the media over the last few weeks. More recently with the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University who had a very personal and private moment broadcast by his fellow roommate on the web.

One of the most prolific cases of cyberbullying was the suicide of 13 year old Megan Meier who was teased and taunted by an adult neighbour posing as a teenage boy of a similar age on MySpace. This led to a conviction of Lori Drew but was subsequently overturned, because US law in this area is sketchy at best.

The two students involved in the Clementi case have since been charged with invasion of privacy which could result in a 5 year prison sentence.

Different states have varied laws in regards to cyberbullying. Massachusettes state legislation was passed in light of one student suicide caused by online bullying, but many areas of the United States and indeed the world do not have laws in place which specifically target online harassment. Many of those involved in perpetrating acts of bullying online have been caught out by various different laws instead, though these are often in relation to the cause as opposed to being a direct influencer of the fact.

But cyberbullying continues and is endemic in the modern online culture. Anonymity has caused great difficulty around bringing those responsible to justice, and those who suffer in relatively controlled environments such as Facebook or Twitter can feel as though they are screaming into the wind.

Dash argues that cyberbullying does not exist, in that bullying of any kind is still bullying. Whether you use a pen to write a hateful note, a phone call to call someone horrible names, or a computer to send hurtful messages, it is all the same thing. Technology is being misused for the convenience of essentially lazy bullies.

He concludes:

"The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like 'cyberbullying' is a cop-out. It's a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do."

Technology is a neutral concept, and it is the people who decide the means and uses for it. Technology isn't the enemy here, and neither is Facebook or text messaging. It's the people behind them which send the messages.

I am inclined to very much agree with him, but what do you think?

Topics: Legal, Privacy

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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