The role of social media in bullying – and what can be done to stop it!
There are few subjects that send shivers down the spine of a parent more than that of ‘bullying’. No one wants to hear that their child is being bullied or, rather, is a perpetrator of bullying. But when the word is used in the 21st century, it opens up a host of questions – there is a myriad of forums where people can, sometimes opportunistically and sometimes through meticulous planning, make the lives of others very difficult. None more so than social media. Social media is accessed by a wide range of people of all ages. As with students, therefore, teachers and parents aren’t immune to cyber-bullying either. It seems that, for some, once they get behind a computer, there is a belief of anonymity or that somehow what is being said is detached from the reality of everyday life, when this could not be further from the truth. Too often, the impact of this behaviour can have devastating consequences for those suffering through it.
It seems like it is almost impossible for young people to conduct an active social life in today’s society without accessing social media. It is therefore very difficult to convince a young person to extract themselves from that world for what could ultimately be the greater good. By and large, schools have robust anti-bullying policies, which, if followed, go a long way to addressing the issues and more often than not, allegations of bullying are resolved quickly with the school. However, for a person who has become victim of a campaign (whether a student, teacher, governor or parent), there may be other steps that can be taken (fact-specific and subject to age of course) if the school’s own measures are simply not enough.
Whilst the term ‘bullying’ can mean different things to different people, what the wrongdoer may not understand is that the term is a rather generic form of expressing what can amount to a civil liability or criminal behaviour and covers a vast array of scenarios.
Take, for example, harassment. There are two types of harassment. The first involves the wrongdoer entering into a course of conduct causing fear, distress or alarm to the victim. A course of conduct involves at least two instances in sequence. The second involves a wrongdoer entering a course of conduct that involves the harassment of two or more people intending to persuade a person to either do something they do not want to do, or to not do something that they are entitled to do.
In the civil courts, a victim may obtain an injunction to restrain the wrongdoer from continuing the course of conduct. If it is breached, the wrongdoer could be arrested for contempt of court. Further, the 1997 Act also contains criminal offences, which include cyber-bullying or trolling online. A wrongdoer can be sent to prison or otherwise receive an unlimited fine. However, if the victim is put at fear of violence, this is an offence which can be heard in the crown court and a wrongdoer could be imprisoned for up to 5 years.
A wrongdoer should also bear in mind that writing anything online which is intended to lower the victim in the estimations of right thinking members of society, has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the victim and is not the truth or honest of the wrongdoer opinion would be defamatory and this may give rise to an action against the wrongdoer by the victim. Defamation actions can be costly but, depending on the extent of damage caused by the publication, are justifiable.
In addition to that set out above, cyber-bullying can also give rise to offences in criminal law under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (which can also include sending malicious emails or text messages in today’s society); Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send public electronic communications (such as ‘tweets’) which are false, grossly offensive or otherwise indecent or obscene; Section 1 to 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 prevents the unauthorised access, modification or use of computer material (for example through hacking)… the list really does go on!
Every case is taken on its merits and is fact specific. However, a person who is experiencing ‘bullying’ in whatever form, should never be afraid to consider all options available and to seek legal advice if there seems to be no end in sight.