The increasing trend of cyber-bullying has transcended the playground, according to a study cited by the Christian Science Monitor, as over a quarter of teachers and principals are the subject of mocking blog posts or doctored images. This new brand of bullying tends to be more malicious than normal schoolhouse pranks, and can undercut a teacher’s ability to perform in the classroom. Says one Missouri alderman whose town saw the suicide of a young cyber-bullying victim, "[W]e’re starting to look at [bullying] from a whole other angle. People can’t just say, ‘Sorry, it was a joke,’ anymore.’”
Opinions differ, however, on what solutions to pursue. Some school districts have come down hard, using provisions like North Carolina’s cyberstalking law to charge students criminally for electronically communicated threats, racial slurs, and, in one case, spurious accusations of pedophilia.
The legal precedence for these cases is unclear, but many experts believe they are a violation of the First Amendment protection of parody. Moreover, some critics claim that these cases set a bad example for students, discouraging an open dialog about the responsibilities that go along with rights like free expression. Says Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, “What I’m not seeing is school officials approaching this in an adult manner. They’re approaching it in an authoritarian fashion...”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.