Parents have now been made responsible for the behavior of their children online according to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The decision was handed on the 15th of October, 2014 in which judges stated the negligence of parents in allowing a fake account on Facebook to be created by their 13 year old son and which stayed for almost 1 year. The parents knew about this and because they were in control of the child’s access to the computer and internet and yet did nothing, they are also now sharing the responsibility of the harm which was caused to the teen. This case is a landmark as it is the first time parents are being held responsible for not properly monitoring the activities which occur on their home computer.
Since September, only 20 states have come up with legislation specific to cyber bullying. This suggests more than half the country still has no law to prevent cyber bullying and to protect the youth from being bullied online. This is considered to be a major concern since legal decisions on the matter vary. Without having any proper guidance, children, parents and schools do not know what the safety and protections associated with the internet are. While some laws are minimal, others are more in-depth and comprehensive and state what role schools play in this matter.
While some states do have clearer laws and protection, do these actually impact the behavior of students? It is difficult to answer. While attention on the topic has been increasing over time and is likely to continue increasing because the time spent online is increasing and so is access to the internet. While reports from the media state it to be an epidemic, a researcher on the topic says around 20-25% of youth have undergone cyber bullying. So will laws make any difference? According to a former teacher and present social media expert, laws will have very little influence unless the adults make efforts to teach them about these laws and monitor their behavior online.
Those schools having proactive anti-bullying programs are less likely to have cyber bullying issues. In such cases, what the law says is less important than what the adults are actually doing to set in place these rules and to make sure students are safe both online and off.
When First Amendment Issues are looked at is when laws pertaining to cyber bullying begin to get tricky. Some cases have been dismissed because the defendant argued that the intervention by the school limited the freedom of expression of the perpetrator to post his/her views on the internet. If however schools are able to show that such acts cause disruption to the school, they can intervene. This needs to be documented properly or else savvy lawyers can end up attacking the school itself.
With laws regarding the matter constantly changing, it can get difficult for parents and educators to keep up. The advice which they can give to students is to indulge in appropriate and respectful behavior, they can promote digital citizenship and act in the interest of the child were a case of cyber bullying to come up.
Parents and educators need to make it their duty to raise the standard of what and how students should behave and they should work to ensure that criminality is prevented and healthy citizenship and good standards are promoted. Irrespective of the laws in place, if adults are acting appropriately and are making sure that young people are kept safe, then what laws state about punishments and responses to cyber bullying should not at all matter? This is not to say that there is no need for any legal framework to address the issue of online harassment and cyber bullying for when it does occur, but for a common man, the best framework is to promote health, safety, respect and responsibility.
Thus, a great deal of responsibility lies with the adults in the society irrespective of what the law says. They need to teach students and youth what is right from wrong and instill in them the attitude to be good citizens and even better human beings.