Lawmakers are too quick to press the "send" button for politically rewarding legislation they claim will stop troubling social behavior. Make it a new crime - even better, a local, state and federal crime. Cyberbullying provides the latest opportunity to blame new technology for an old and difficult problem.
In response to the tragic suicides of Alexis Pilkington, 17, of West Islip, and Phoebe Prince, 15, of Massachusetts, there are now about a dozen proposed new laws to deal with a very real concern. But Pilkington's father, Thomas, who has eloquently coped with her death by bringing attention to the problems of teens and mental illness, says nasty comments on social networking sites didn't cause her death. The events leading to Prince's death were old-style verbal insults and physical abuse - including a can of Red Bull thrown at her from a passing car.
Instead of enacting laws that are impossible to enforce, a better approach would be giving minors more direction at home and in schools about the dangers of such posts. Middle schools usually do offer anti-bullying instruction, which should be updated to include digital media. There should also be procedures in place for teachers and staff to report to school officials incidents of all kinds of bullying. Mandating that these incidents be reported to the police, however, makes schools responsible for and a party to problems they can't solve.
The use of social media to target and harass vulnerable minors is a significant concern, but the answers so far are predictable and unworkable. hN