Computers and Facebook haven't changed what students say to each other. What has changed is how easy it is to do it. Instead of the bullying ending when you leave school, it can continue on just about any web enabled device. That's a scary thought.
The provincial Progressive Conservative party has introduced legislation that targets cyberbullying. In a nutshell, they define bullying as any direct or indirect behaviour, comment, act or gesture, including those made through the use of social media, intended to injure, hurt, oppress, intimidate or ostracize, and includes cyberbullying.
The Liberals have also proposed a provision to require school boards to immediately notify Internet service and cellphone companies in instances where bullying has occurred.
Their heart is in the right place, but we need to be sure the legislation won't have unintended consequences. The government would be rightly cautious to turn any of this into law.
It comes down to freedom of speech. On a basic level right now, you cannot accuse people of a false crime, but you are free to criticize. We also have harassment laws that could come into play, but it needs to be proven in a court of law.
The way the PC legislation is worded to targets schools, but students aren't the only ones with computers. Nor are they the only ones doing the bullying. There is a case of an adult, not part of the school system, bullying students, telling them to commit suicide because they are worthless human beings. Despicable is too polite of a word for this person, but where would they fit in?
An example in the school system of freedom of speech came just last week in Chester. A student was suspended for wearing a t-shirt that said, "life is wasted without Jesus." The student is claiming freedom of speech, while the school board is saying the message can be seen as offensive.
Whether you agree or disagree, it is a pretty tame message compared to the bile spewed on the Internet. If this student posted the message to Facebook, would Muslim, Buddhist or Atheist students have a case for cyberbullying under the tougher laws?
If the school board is having problems with this message, could you imagine what would happen if they had stronger laws about bullying?
Those questions need to be addressed before any laws are put in place.
Of course this is small comfort to the families of those teenagers that have committed suicide because of bullying. They want it to stop, and to stop right now. One teen committing suicide because of bullying is one too many.
Though the actions of bullies are crude and simple, the solution is going to be complex. Legislation may work, but this is one case where lawyers are going to have to pick through it with a fine tooth comb. Otherwise we'll end up with a law that does nothing, or one that ties up the court systems into a legal nightmare.