While bullying has been a problem for generations, the issue has only grown because of the expanded use of the Internet and the anonymity it provides. People can pretend to be someone else and are more willing to say and do things they may not otherwise do in person. This can make cyber bullying a more serious issue than bullying that can quickly and easily be attributed to a specific individual. Some cyber bullying makes it easy to determine who is behind it, but many other cases can take much longer to come to a resolution and provide the victim with relief. In Pennsylvania, there are cyber bullying laws in effect designed to help fight against these issues.
What Is Cyber Bullying?
Before exploring the Pennsylvania laws regarding cyber bullying, it’s important to gain a full understanding of exactly what it is. Cyber bullying, in basic terms, refers to the act of harassing or stalking another individual through electronic means. While most people see bullying as threatening physical harm or causing emotional harm by taunting an individual in person, many of these same actions can take place through online methods, particularly social media. Because more teenagers are using the Internet to interact with each other, it has become a popular way to bully others. Few teens understand the full consequences of this behavior and can thus find themselves breaking the laws, even if they are unaware of what those laws are.
School Bullying Laws in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania doesn’t have cyber bullying laws in particular, but the laws they do have extends to bullying through electronic means, which is basically the definition of cyber bullying. According to the Pennsylvania statutes, as of January 2009, all schools within the state must create and implement anti-bullying strategies in an attempt to protect their students from the dangers of cyber bullying. While traditional bullying is something many people will agree is damaging to a young person’s psyche, as well as increases the likelihood of committing suicide, many people have yet to recognize the damages online bullying can cause. However, because children often use the Internet at home, as well as at school, they don’t get a break from the bullying and it can potentially cause more damage, especially when the child doesn’t know who is behind the attacks.
In the state of Pennsylvania, schools must create an anti-bullying policy that includes electronic forms and educate parents and students on what is covered under the law and what the consequences of participating in such behavior will be. In fact, the law requires all schools to make their anti-bullying policy available publicly through their website so it can be reviewed by concerned parties at all times. This policy must be reviewed every three years to ensure it is up-to-date and provides the protection students need to feel safe in a school environment, even when they are interacting with other students through online media. However, schools are not held liable for actions outside of the school grounds or those that don’t occur during a designated school event that may be held off campus. This can leave a lot of students unprotected when they are in their own homes after school hours.
To ensure everyone is protected at all times, not just students when they are in a school environment or participating in a school-sponsored event, Pennsylvania has implemented its own set of laws that will govern acts that take place electronically and in person at any time. This protection isn’t known as protection against cyber bullying, but since it does cover electronic media, it qualifies. According to the laws written in Pennsylvania, harassment, which also is defined as bullying, is an action that is designed to alarm, harm or annoy another person. This can mean repeated communication via an anonymous account, communicating with inappropriate language, reaching out at inappropriate hours of the day or otherwise communicating in an unwanted manner.
In addition to these general laws that apply to everyone, the state has specific harassment laws that pertain to children in particular. This is designed to offer the additional protection young, impressionable individuals may need to help prevent suicide and other long-term psychological effects of cyber bullying. This addition to the law covers making disparaging remarks about a child’s appearance, sexuality, physical or mental health or a number of other features, particularly those beyond their control.
Cyber bullying has become a more serious issue as the Internet is more widely used, particularly among younger age groups. Being able to hide behind a screen with an anonymous name often makes it easier to say things someone wouldn’t say directly to a person. Therefore, it’s important for states to implement cyber bullying laws to protect all of their citizens from harm, even through electronic media.