The legal system

"Harassment (bullying) is a major online issue and one which to date governments and the legal system have failed to fully address. " Cyber bullying in the 21st Century is undoubtedly a pervasive and growing problem. However, there are a limited number of ways in which the law can be applied to prevent the occurrence of cyber bullying and to punish the perpetrators.

As an issue which directly affects society, it can be said that instead of legislative measures the government should implement further policies that effectively prohibit and curb cyber bullying from occurring at the outset; rather than criminalizing the perpetrator after they have already committed the harm.

Through the course of this essay we will focus specifically on cyber bullying in children/ young adults, and examine 1) why cyber bullying is such an important phenomenon and needs to be addressed swiftly and systematically; 2) the legislative channels already available to victims of cyber bullying and their limitations; and 3) how governments and legislators should not only concern themselves with updating the current law on bullying to incorporate the shift into the 'cyber age', but also how they should introduce and oversee the enforcement of public policy measures that address the crux of cyber bulling.

With the growth in popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace, and the habitual use of computers and the internet in schools, universities and workplaces, much in the way of human interaction takes place in the form of online communication. Bill Belsey defines cyber bullying as "the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.

"1 Although 'traditional' playground bulling has been in existence for many years, cyber bullying has been raised as an important issue worldwide because of the frequency of young peoples' usage of digital technologies in order to communicate. According to a report published by BeatBullying. org, of the approximately 4,377,780 secondary-aged children in the UK, 350,222 can be said to have suffered 'persistent or severe' forms of cyber bullying.

2 A separate statistic from the same organisation suggests that 28% of 11-16 year olds have experienced forms of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying has come to popular attention due to the severity of the consequences in the more extreme cases- such as the stories of Holly Grogran and Natasha McBryde in the UK, both of whom were driven to committing suicide.

The virtual attacks can be more dangerous than face-to-face bullying for 2 main reasons: 1) on the internet, the bullies have the option of remaining anonymous, or posting under an alias, so the victim is unable to identify their tormenters and repost them; and 2) the constantly 'switched on' nature of the internet means that it is possible for the victim to be attacked throughout the day and night through vicious comments posted on their social networking page, or via text, or via email.

The combination of both these factors adds additional dimensions to face-to-face bullying, and undoubtedly cause the victims greater psychological harm and duress. As the law presently stands, there are few readily available legal channels which are targeted at controlling cyber bullying. When looking at how the law regulates cyber bullying, we must take into account varying perspectives on the matter: the responsibility and fiduciary duty of schoolteachers/ caregivers towards the victims; the perpetrator's rights; and most importantly the current statutory law dealing with the issue.

Teachers' and schools' responsibility to ensure the safety of their students is extended only up to the point when the students are in school. Most schools in the UK assume zero tolerance stances towards bullying, however it must be admitted that face-to-face bullying is easier to address.

Cyber bullying is not confined to within the school premises, and is commonly undertaken on students' personal computers and mobile phones- over which teachers have no authority. They are also checked by having to respect the students' rights to privacy to freedom of expression. This is particularly prevalent in American cases, where teachers are often faced with lawsuits for violating first amendment rights in trying to protect victims of cyber bullying.