Tuesday, July 29, 2008

INTERNET LAW - Bullying and Cyber-Bullying Prohibited under Florida Law

Source: Internet Business Law Services

Bullying and, in particular, cyber-bullying is becoming a frequent practice among the American youth. Incidents are reaching such daunting results that state legislatures are rapidly adopting measures. For instance, Florida Legislature adopted an anti-bullying, including cyber-bullying, law on April 2008. The law is called "Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act" (Fla. Stat. section 1006.147), named after Jeffrey Johnston, a 15-year-old boy who committed suicide after being the object of bullying, including Internet bullying, for two years. This new Florida law prohibits bullying and harassment of any public K-12 student or employee, and requires public schools to adopt measures to protect students and employees from the physical and psychological effects of bullying and harassment.

The Florida Senate, quoting to a report by SafeYouth.org, stated that "bullying behavior can involve direct attacks, such as hitting, threatening or intimidating, maliciously teasing or taunting, name-calling, making sexual remarks, and stealing or damaging belongings, or more subtle, indirect attacks such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject or exclude someone." It also stated that bullies are four times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of a crime by age 24, with 60% of bullies having at least one criminal conviction.

Thus, this Florida law is considered a safety measure for schools and the Florida community. Section 1006.147, titled "Bullying and Harassment Prohibited," proscribes bullying and harassment in Florida's K-12 public educational institutions; in any educational program or activity conducted by an educational institution; or through the use of data or software accessed by a computer, computer system, or computer network of a K-12 public educational institution. Hence, using the school e-mail network, even while at home, to bully or harass other students is prohibited by this Florida law. The law expressly defines "bullying" as the act of systematically or chronologically inflicting physical harm or emotional distress on a student. The law also provides examples of conducts that may result in bullying:

1. Teasing;
2. Social exclusion;
3. Threat;
4. Intimidation;
5. Stalking;
6. Physical violence;
7. Theft;
8. Sexual or racial harassment;
9. Public humiliation; or
10. Destruction of property.

Harassment is defined as any verbal, written, or physical conduct that threatens, insults, or dehumanizes public school students or employees. Written harassment includes those committed through electronic means and the use of computer software. The conduct must be sufficient to place the student or employee in reasonable fear of harm against him or his property; and sufficient to interfere with the student"s school performance, opportunities, or benefits. The Florida anti-bullying law also penalizes those who induce or coerce others to bully or harass public school students or employees. Students, parents, volunteers, or employees that promptly and in good faith report bullying acts will be exempted from civil cause of actions against them.

The Florida anti-bullying law also mandates each school district to adopt a code of conduct against bullying and harassment by December 1, 2008. This code of conduct must protect all students regardless of their status under the law but the school districts are authorized to create student categories when drafting their school policies. In any event, the code of conduct must include a general prohibition of bullying and harassment; a definition of these terms; an expected student conduct and behavior; description of the consequences of falsely and wrongfully accusing others of bullying and harassment; the procedures for reporting bullying and harassment incidents, including anonymous reports; a procedure for the prompt investigation of these acts; a procedure to determine whether the acts are within the district school system; a procedure to notify parents and criminal authorities; a procedure to refer victims to counseling; among others.

The Florida Department of Education affords an additional protection for victims of bullying and harassment by, first, monitoring district school activities, including transportation, through permanent collection of data (24 hours a day, 7 days a week); and second, enhancing the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System (SESIR). This program allows district schools to report bullying activities and conducts an annual database management workshop.

The Florida anti-bullying and harassment law is definitely well received and the first intent to control youth behavior, including Internet behavior. Yet, questions arise as to the consequences incurred when violating this law. It is not clear under the text of this law whether its violation merely includes school disciplinary actions or whether subsequent criminal actions will be sought. This is an important question whose answer is yet to come.

Law and sociology have been close partners for centuries; another important question is where are the parents parenting? A sociological answer to this question might take us to the genesis of most bullying and harassment problems which is essential for state legislatures and school officials.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Impact of Cyberbullying

Victims of cyberbullying may experience many of the same effects as children who are bullied in person, such as a drop in grades, low self-esteem, a change in interests or depression. However, cyberbullying can seem more extreme to its victims because of several factors:

Occurs in children’s home. Being bullied at home can take away the place children feel most safe.

Can be harsher. Often kids say things online that they wouldn’t say in person, mainly because they can’t see the other person’s reaction.

Far reaching. Kids can send e-mails making fun of someone to their entire class or school with a few clicks, or post them on a Web site for the whole world to see.

Anonymity. Cyberbullies often hide behind screen names and e-mail addresses that don’t identify who they are. Not knowing who is responsible for bullying messages can add to a victim’s insecurity.

May seem inescapable. It may seem easy to get away from a cyberbully by going offline, but for some kids not going online takes away a major place to socialize.

Source: National Crime Prevention Council.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sue Scheff: Web Friends Over Real Friends

“All of these kinds of social worlds helps develop their ability to interact with people, and particularly, to do things like post a comment that might be a little controversial for example, and see what kind of reactions they get.”

– Larry Rosen, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology

Like many teens, Matt has tons of friends online. “My buddy list is full. It over 200 people in there. And it’s just all these people that have the same interests as me that I would have never met, if I just, you know, that don’t go to my school. They’re just around the country.”

According to a recent online survey, one in four kids say their internet friendships are equally or more important than friends met in person.

“Yeah, I mean, like. Cause of the internet, I’ve, you know, that’s where I found my social group, and I really kinda found out about myself,” agrees Matt.

But are these relationships healthy?

Experts say, on one hand, they give kids an opportunity to try out different personalities without consequence. “Kids are struggling to find out who they are. And who they are is in a lot of dimensions,” explains Professor of Psychology, Dr. Larry Rosen. “Who they are personally, what their skills are, but mostly it’s who they are in a social context, and that’s why these online social worlds like MySpace, all of these kinds of social worlds helps develop their ability to interact with people, and particularly, to do things like post a comment that might be a little controversial for example, and see what kind of reactions they get.”

But, on the other hand, Rosen says, like most things in life moderation is key.

“Because being in the virtual world, being in front of a screen all day is not sufficient for good teenage socialization. You need to have a combination of a screen life, and a real life,” he explains. “And so a good parent will make some sort of boundaries that say okay, you can have screen time, but after a certain amount of screen time you have to have some real outdoor time. Or some real communication time. And you can’t talk on the phone, it has to be face to face. You have to come talk to me, you have to go outside and hang out with some friends – you have to do something that’s in the real world.”

Tips for Parents

Most adults have an Internet-usage history that dates back no more than ten to fifteen years. But those growing up since the emergence of the Internet potentially could have their entire lives documented online. New parents can post online baby books for under $15 annually. Images once stored on a bookshelf at Grandma’s house can be available to the world without password protection. With Bunk1, the same can be said for memories of summer camp.

It is increasingly common for teens to have their own website. Many of these sites have a “blog”, where the owner can post running thoughts on a daily basis. Although some sites, like MySpace.com and LiveJournal.com, require users to be registered, membership is free and easy to obtain. If your child has a blog, encourage them to protect their blog so that can be read only by the friends and family they approve. Consider the following …

Only 10 percent of families posting their baby’s photos have the site protected with a password.
Many employers and colleges will enter a prospective applicant’s name in an Internet search engine to research their web presence.

Remind your child that not only friends and strangers, but also his or her parents, will be reading the blog.

Regularly monitor your child’s blog and immediately discuss any uncomfortable or inappropriate posts with your child.

It is very important to discuss various aspects of safety with your child, including the Internet and availability of information. Cite modern advances that have changed the world within the child’s lifetime and memory. Explain to your child that while your embarrassing photos and writings might be stored in a closet, an attic or even at Grandma’s home, the electronic versions your child might have will be much more accessible to anyone interested. Also, keep the following in mind:

If you do opt to post family photos online, be sure to place the images on a secure, password-protected site.

Search for names on an Internet search engine with your child to show him/her the possible places his/her information could be found.

Show your child how far e-mails, especially jokes and chain messages, can travel.

Monitor your child’s web usage and posts. An online diary usually does not have the same rights to privacy as a bound, handwritten journal because the online version is accessible to members of the public outside your home.

Know what posts, if any, you are able to delete from your child’s blog.

A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety
Pew Internet and American Life Project
Kids Help Phone

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sue Scheff - Teens and Their Internet Addiction

In today's society, the Internet has made its way into almost every American home. It is a well-known fact that the web is a valuable asset for research and learning. Unfortunately, it can also be a very dangerous place for teens. With social networking sites like Myspace and Friendster, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online role-playing video games, our children are at access to almost anyone. Sue Scheff, along with Parent's Universal Resource Experts™, is tackling the dangers of the web.

Keeping tabs on our teens' online habits doesn't just keep them safe from online predators. More and more parents are becoming wary of the excessive hours their teens spend surfing the web, withdrawing from family, friends and activities they used to enjoy. Internet Addiction is a devastating problem facing far too many teens and their families. While medical professionals have done limited research on the topic, more and more are recognizing this destructive behavior and even more, the potential mental effects it can have.

Though the web is a great place for learning and can be safe for keeping in touch, it is important that families understand the potential risks and dangers to find a healthy balance between real and virtual life.

The Basics: The Dangers of Teen Internet Addiction

It’s clear that, for teenagers, spending too much time online can really deter social and educational development. The Internet world is such that there is always something new to do and to distract one from one’s responsibilities. We all do it- take ten minutes here or there to explore our favorite gossip or sports site. There is nothing wrong with using the Internet as a tool for research, news, and even entertainment. After all, the World Wide Web is the world’s most accurate, up to date resource for almost any type of information.

But as the Internet evolves and becomes more tailored to the individual, it grows increasingly easier to develop a dependency on it. This is especially true for teens- a group that tends to be susceptible to flashy graphics and easily enticed by the popularity of social networks. In a sense, the Internet is the new video game or TV show. It used to be that adolescents would sit in front of the TV for hours on end operating a remote, shooting people and racing cars. Now they surf the web. Teens are impressionable and can at times be improperly equipped to handle certain situations with a degree of reason and rationality. And although they may have good intentions, they might be at risk of coming across something inappropriate and even dangerous.

Learn more at Wrapped in the Web.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sue Scheff: Don't Be Cyber Bullied!

Cyber Bullying is social terror by technology ... and it’s on the rise.

When a kid of any age, up to 18 is threatened, humiliated, harassed, or humiliated via use of technology --- this is Cyber Bullying. It’s harmful and it’s dangerous!

This social online terror is used through e-mail, cell phones, pager text messages, instant messaging, Web sites, online personal polling Web sites. It is done by kids deliberately and repeatedly and is used by an individual or group with the intention of harming other kids and teens.

It’s cool to use technology to talk to your friends and make new ones. While most kids use the Internet responsibly, others are using all of this technology to terrorize and Cyberbully!

Cyber Bullying is the perfect way for bullies to remain anonymous.

Cyber Bullying makes it easier for bullies because they are not face to face with their victim(s.)