Technology has in some ways improved communication in the 21st century. With a few clicks on a computer or smartphone keyboard, a person can reach a wide audience. Keeping in touch with old classmates, networking for business – the options are endless.
Unfortunately, these options can also include using the same platforms to unleash cruelty on even the youngest of victims.
Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use and suicide, according to stopbullying.gov. Kids who are bullied are more likely to battle depression and anxiety.
The West Virginia Legislature is in the process of curbing cyberbullying among minors by making it a crime.
House Bill 2655 defines and establishes the crime of cyberbullying to minors.
In her Legislative Review column this week (Today’s edition of The Journal, page A6), Del. Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, reported that the carryover bill passed the House Monday with an overwhelming 94-1 vote. Upson first introduced the bill in 2017.
She said the bill defines and establishes the crime of cyberbullying. It also establishes prohibited behavior such as “creating fake profiles, cyberstalking, posting doctored photographs of a minor, disseminating false information with malicious intent, and other forms of harassment of a minor.”
If the bill becomes law, cyberbullying will be a misdemeanor and carry with it a maximum penalty of $500 or one year in jail or both.
Ending such behavior should be a priority for lawmakers. Making cyberbullying among minors illegal sends an important message.
Teens, tweens and children often have a difficult time judging the consequences of their behavior. Social media platforms – where an individual does not have to witness the pain and humiliation inflicted – certainly do nothing to help youth understand this better.
And, let’s be honest, many adults have an equally difficult time taking this into consideration. Social media has improved much in the way of communication, but it has also destroyed other aspects – like civility. As mature adults, we should set a better example.
One need not go far to find examples of cyberbullying and its devastating impact.
Upson highlighted the case of 15-year-old Grace McComas, a high school student in neighboring Glenelg High School in Howard County, Maryland. Grace took her own life after enduring vicious attacks on various social media. She was the target of hate speech, threats and online bullying.
The teen years have always been difficult, as youth are developing an identity. Brains are not fully developed, and hormones only add to significant drama.
Today, though, teens have an arsenal through which to humiliate. Helping teens better understand that words posted on Facebook and humiliating photos sent out over SnapChat can and often do have a horrible impact on their targets.
This bill will go far to aid in that.
No one knows this better, perhaps, than Del. Sara Blair, R-Berkeley, who is also one of the bill’s sponsors. She is also one of the state’s youngest legislators, having graduated high school in 2014.
“With the changing times, it’s more important than ever that we address these issues,” Blair said recently in a West Virginia Press Association article. “Technology moves a lot faster than legislation does, so this is an opportunity for us to keep up.”
Blair said the impact of cyberbullying on minors is often overlooked.
“Many people do not realize how frequent it occurs and how young the victims are,” she told the WVPA, adding that she sees its impact firsthand as a youth mentor. “I’ve seen (cyberbullying) victims as young as 8 years old.”
Eight years old?
We’re relieved to see legislators taking action to help curb such disturbing behavior.
Lawmakers are doing their part. It’s time for adults to step up too.
Think twice before you insult someone online. It doesn’t make you smarter, younger or even help in making a point.
It makes you look childish, and the people we’re hurting most are the ones looking up to us.