Can we deter cyberbullying and cyber-harassment with new laws?

Cyberbullying Mother and Daughter v2

Why do we need laws pertaining to cyberbullying and harassment of youth and adults?

As people hear my story and my quest for legislation and programs for cyberbullying and harassment prevention for youth and adults, some question whether or not we need laws to prohibit this behavioral challenge.

With a few years to think about it while being harassed, defamed, and threatened online, I believe we need better laws in the U.S. to protect people against those who are taking advantage of the absence of them.

I’ve also had time to reflect on how laws have positively impacted other areas of our lives. Where would we be without laws against theft, identity theft, assault, murder, child pornography, rape, etc.?

It wasn’t too long ago that parents were not held accountable for events resulting from liquor served to minors in their homes, but society realized we needed laws to prevent underage drinking that increased teen drunk driving and other challenges.

We cannot rely on everyone to follow what we consider societal norms, because we know people often do not agree on them. We need official guidelines to clarify boundaries and ramifications.

When I hear people say they do not want to create laws about cyberbullying, because they do not want to criminalize it, I wonder how doing nothing is helpful. It’s not. Cyberbullying’s effects are devastating our youth.

Varying lengths of community-service and programs for sensitivity, anger management, impulse control, etc. could be part of the ramifications for repeat or extreme juvenile offenders.

Creating laws to define cyberbullying and harassment for youth and adults, as well as ramifications, would help deter it and, at the same time, would demonstrate the seriousness in which it is regarded.

There are many other things we need to do to decrease cyberbullying and harassment. We need to foster empathy and respect in our schools and everywhere youth are active. We need to promote kindness and compassion for all people. We need teach positive communications skills, especially for when people disagree. We need to lead by example. We need to help more people be upstanders, and we need to encourage self-confidence and standing up for oneself.

We also need social media companies to change the way they respond to reports of abusive content and accounts. This is long overdue and could help diminish the number of repeat offenders. Till this happens, we need to face the fact that at the moment it’s easy to get away with harming someone online.

More than 20 young people took their lives due to cyberbullying in 2017, and many more attempted suicide. Cyberbullying and harassment can be devastating. It negatively impacts the victims, witnesses, and those carrying out the harassment.

The time for change is now. The time for laws to protect us from online abuse is now.

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Stop Cyberbullying and Online Harassment When Blocking Does Not Work

Stop Cyberbullying and Online Harassment When Blocking Does Not Work

When you’re attacked on social media, your first instinct may be to block the account. It’s only natural to think you should be able to prevent someone from cyberbullying, contacting you, seeing your information, or even writing about you, but blocking an account does not guarantee you any respite from online abuse.

After my story was shared with the public, many people — who probably only read the headlines — questioned my handling of the situation with one simple question, “Why didn’t she just block her?”

Of course, I blocked her.

Most social media channels, online forums, apps, and blog platforms only require unique user names or email addresses to create an account, so anyone can have an unlimited amount of accounts.

I could never have imagined the amount of social media and email accounts my harasser would use to bother me and others. The vast majority of her accounts had distinct profile names, photos, bios or descriptions, and personalities.

Shortly after my ordeal began, I received private messages from two accounts claiming to be the harasser’s friends– warning me of her extremely violent nature – while other accounts wrote defamatory remarks about me. This was just the beginning. My Facebook list of blocked accounts grew, but I was not safe from further harassment. Her arsenal of accounts posted defamatory remarks about me in various places, and new accounts sent me additional messages.

If this wasn’t traumatic enough, she impersonated me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog platforms. On Facebook, she not only created impersonation accounts to damage my personal and professional reputation, she sent friend requests to family members, friends, and professional connections. The content was devastating.

At times, the attacks and private messages were coming at me around the clock. I was exhausted and humiliated. She taunted me by promising to continue to post, especially if I had damaging content removed. I felt helpless.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Four out of 10 U.S. adults have been the victims of cyber-harassment, according to Pew Research Center’s Online Harassment 2017 Report, and nearly one in five were subjected to particularly severe forms of online abuse.

Not surprisingly, the report also shares that “users increasingly see the internet as a place that facilitates anonymity . . . 89% of Americans say the ability to post anonymously online enables people to be cruel to or harass one another.”

Nearly half of the people being harassed online unfriend or block the accounts carrying out the harassment. In some cases, blocking an account may be all one needs to stop a cyberbully but, in others, it is not. In the report, some respondents indicated they blocked accounts, and offenders created new ones to harass them. Other respondents indicated blocking an abusive account solved the problem.

While blocking an account may not be the solution for many cyber-harassment cases, it still sends an important message to the harasser. Blocking an account communicates that you do not want to interact with it, receive communications from it, or allow it to view your information. It demonstrates your position and efforts to end the abuse.

If you find yourself the victim of cyberbullying or online harassment, take action and find support:

  • Don’t retaliate or engage.
  • If possible, send the person a brief message indicating you do not want to be contacted by him or her.
  • Contact a mutual acquaintance to reach out to the person to inform him or her that if contact or posting continues, you will reach out to authorities.
  • Block the account(s).
  • Report abusive content.
  • If the messages or posts include threats of violence, contact law enforcement. Don’t take chances.
  • Document all incidents.
  • Set up Google Alerts to inform you if content about you is posted online.
  • Consider informing your employer(s), especially if the attacks include threats of violence.
  • Be careful with whom you connect and engage online.
  • Consider blocking, unfriending, or disconnecting from mutual acquaintances who may provide information about you to the harasser, even unintentionally.
  • Keep private information private.
  • Find support to help prepare you to work with law enforcement or navigate the judicial process, if necessary.

Today, there are many groups helping victims of digital attacks, according to Sue Scheff, author and family internet safety expert. In her recent article, “Finding Online Support for Cyberbullying and Shaming,” she shares resources to help victims overcome cyberbullying and harassment.

My case was extreme. According to the judge who presided over the case, the Honorable Justice G. Gage, it represented “without question the epitome of cyberbullying and the most egregious form of posting that I have had the misfortune to review . . .”

My harasser eventually pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and was sentenced to six months in prison. Her two-year probation order includes a prohibition to possess or use any computer or any other device that has Internet access.

Blocking didn’t save me from being the victim of cruel adult cyber-harassment for a long period of time. Like many other victims, I learned it wasn’t enough, but it was an important step in the overall process to stop it.

If you or your child is struggling with online abuse, there are resources and tips on combating and surviving cyberbullying and harassment.

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In Memoriam 2017: Youth Bullycide Victims

This time of year, we are inundated with lists in memoriam of people who passed away – entertainers, athletes, elected officials, scientists, activists, and more. But, this year, there is another group of individuals we must remember and make sure their deaths were not in vain.

Suicide caused by bullying has become known as bullycide, and headlines across the U.S. in 2017 were filled with heartbreaking accounts by parents, family, friends, and educators of teens and tweens who took their own lives after being tormented by bullying or cyberbullying.

May their memories inspire us to:

  • provide resources for educational institutions to foster empathy and respect,
  • learn how to be better upstanders,
  • establish effective bullying and cyberbullying prevention laws, and
  • focus on leading by example.

In memoriam

Deshaun Adderley, 14

German Aramburo-Guzman, 14

Rosalie Avila, 13

Nick Borck, 16

Raistlin Brown, 14

Angelo Collazo, 17

Kyleigh Crawford, 16

Logan Davidson, 14

Ashawnty Davis, 10

Quentin Espinoza, 14

Riley Garrigus, 16

Mallory Grossman, 12

Jesse Dylan James, 14

Isabella Martinez, 13

Hugo Morales, 13

Julio Ortiz, 11

Toni Rivers, 11

Aliyah Rodriguez, 20

Gabriel Taye, 8

Connor Tronerud, 15

Rylie Wagner, 13

Nina E. Zendarski, 14

Each one of their deaths is a tragic loss to their families, friends, and communities. Their lives ended too soon. They will not be forgotten.

Updated 12/22/2017 – The original post included the names of two victims of bullycide in 2016: Erica Smith, 12, and Kenneth Suttner, 17.
This list was compiled on December 21, 2017 from various news sources and is intended to be inclusive and accurate. Sincere apologies if anyone was inadvertently omitted. For corrections, additions, or removal, please email
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