The danger lurking in laws to end cyberbullying

In an attempt to protect people, we risk curbing their right to be offensive, inane, or downright ridiculous. What a boring place Twitter would become.

Share
Related Topics

Last month, a 15-year-old Canadian girl, Amanda Todd, committed suicide because she was the victim of cyberbullying.

After years of abuse that took place online, she posted a video on YouTube telling her story, then hanged herself. She didn't seek help from a law to protect her from the man who posted a picture of her breasts on his Facebook page. But there was a law to help protect the bullies' right to privacy when the hacktivist group Anonymous released their names online.

The developing law that relates to social media is walking a tightrope between protecting privacy and protecting civil liberties. And, recently, it has got the balance totally, worryingly wrong.

Earlier this week, the 19-year-old man from Canterbury who posted a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook upset a lot of people. Although I don't agree with the act, Kent police's decision to arrest him on suspicion of an offence under the Malicious Communications Act seems seriously misjudged; an infringement of his god-given right to be moronically provocative.

Even more worrying is Section 127 of the Communications Act, which suggests if you re-share or retweet something that breaks the law, you commit the same offence. As far as I know, this hasn’t been enforced yet, but it’s potentially very scary. Twitter would lose any sense of the wonderfully ill-thought out emissions that makes it so interesting,  replaced by a barren wasteland of PR messages and lots of people being terribly nice about each other. A sickening thought.

Now another change to the law is to be introduced. From next week, the Harassment Act, which protects people from stalking, bullying and other forms of harassment, will include a clause relating to cyberbullying and cyberstalking. If used properly, this could help protect victims of cyberstalking, like Amanda Todd. If mis-used, it could be another step towards curbing our freedom of expression.

The UK figures for cyberbullying are rising: According to the BeatBullying charity, one in three young people are victims. Three per cent of them have attempted suicide as a result of cyberbullying. These young people need protection, but is it up to the law to, er, lay down the law? What about schools, and parents, and the social networks themselves? The problem with making a hard-and-fast law is that, as we've already seen, it can be mis-used.

Facebook has a rule that if you are under 13 you can't set up a profile on the site, but parents still allow young children to access it. In seventh grade, Amanda Todd would have been 12 years old; that was when she flashed the man online, and that was when he took the photo that haunted her for the rest of her life.

The way we interact online is changing at a pace that the law is struggling to keep up with, while it tries to figure things out, we need to realise that the things our children do online leave a permanent mark.

e.jupp@independent.co.uk

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?