Threat of Legal Action Powerful Tool Against Cyberbullying
By Paul Langhorst November 6, 2012
A very moving post this morning by Laura Shumaker, regarding her autistic son’s encounter with a “mean text” sent by an unknown individual, serves as a reminder that the threat of legal action, is often a good way to stop cyberbullying incidents. Laura Shumaker, is a writer and autism advocate.
In this incident, her 26-year old autistic son, Mathew, received a text that read, “U are a loser. U have no friends.” This caused Mathew to become fearful and triggered him to call 911, followed by a panicked call to Laura.
According to Laura, Mathew’s autism makes it a struggle to keep friends. Mathew has a tendency to ask repetitive questions and make repetitive overtures to “hang” out with people he may accidentally call or encounter. In this case, the mean texter had been previously called by Mathew and Mathew’s repeated attempts to connect may have caused the texter to lash out in frustration.
The genius in Laura’s response to the texter was that she threatened to call the police if the texter sent any further messages. While Laura may have made this threat without actually knowing the law in this case, her actions and the results are a reminder that the transmission of intimidating or harassing messages via electronic means (a.k.a “cyber bullying”) is now illegal in most states. Laura’s reply triggered an immediate apology by the texter, which is rare and commendable on the part of the texter. The texter likely did not know of Mathew’s autism, but realized he/she had crossed a line with their response.
This is a good lesson to parents and school administrators to bring the threat of legal action to the table when dealing with cyberbullying incidents. Before doing so it is important to know your state’s cyberbullying law and the good folks at www.stopbullying.gov make this easy with their website to look up bullying laws by state. Often times when the threat of police or legal action is brought into the discussion, the bullying or unwanted behavior stops.
My discussions with SRO officers supports this. At a recent roundtable event, Missouri SRO’s shared that the most effective tool they have is the law. When a bullying or harassment incident reaches them, they counsel both victim and bully, explaining how the behavior is breaking the law and their action’s legal consequences.
Most kids probably don’t know that their bullying behavior is actually illegal in most states, but adults should, and those that are charged with protecting the welfare of a child, whether parent or teacher, should use the law to the fullest extent to prevent and stop cyberbullying.