From the Daily: Stop cyberbullying

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published October 6, 2010

In late September, a student at Rutgers University took his own life after he was a victim of a dangerous trend: cyberbullying. A concept that has quickly spun out of control as Internet technology has advanced and more students are connected, cyberbullying has been the cause of multiple suicides in the last month. Cyberbullying has even happened on campus — Andrew Shirvell’s recent Internet attacks on Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong could certainly qualify as cyberbullying. But this threat is rarely combated at the legal level. The state must address the seriousness of this threat and create legislation to protect the victims of cyberbullying.

On Sept. 22, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life after his roommate secretly live-streamed footage on the web of him engaging in a sexual encounter with another male. His roommate and another classmate were arrested on invasion of privacy charges but have since been released on bail.

Cyberbullying is increasingly common and vicious because there is no easy way to monitor and stop it. The Internet is huge and allows for far more anonymity than any other medium through which bullying occurs. As a result, it’s more difficult to police. When a student is bullied in a controlled environment like school, teachers and administrators are often able to take immediate action. On the web, on the other hand, bullies can often remain under the radar until something shocking happens.

The bullying of Clementi and Shirvell’s attacks against Armstrong share a common trait: The objects of attack are members of the LGBT community. And though Armstrong has received impressive support from campus, many victims of cyberbullying don’t have such an encouraging environment. Nine out of ten LGBT students are bullied, according to a recent study conducted by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Because of this, these students are considered four times more likely to be suicidal than straight students. And while members of the LGBT community are statistically bullied more often than others, anyone is susceptible.

Though Michigan already has legislation to promote cyber-safety and has a law against bullying, there is nothing being done to stop or prevent cyberbullying. This needs to change. The state needs to create ways to detect cyberbullying and control what is being said on the Internet in order to protect victims and enforce consequences for perpetrators.

Currently, only seven states have legislation to stop cyberbullying. Michigan needs to join the movement to stop online attacks. Ironically, Attorney General Mike Cox has enacted a huge campaign — The Michigan Cyber Safety Initiative — to educate K-12 children about cyber safety. But we have seen as a result of Shirvell’s actions that the campaign can’t be completely effective because there is no law to deter potential bullies. If Cox’s own staff isn’t promoting this initiative, there is no reason why the rest of the community would. Cox needs to push for firmer laws that can’t be ignored.

Cyberbullying is a growing threat, especially to students and members of the LGBT community. To protect vulnerable students, Michigan must create legislation to help stop cyberbulling.