Cyberbullying bill introduced in N.Y. Assembly

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A bill currently in the New York General Assembly would address the problem of cyberbullying, a phenomenon that has attracted national attention over the last several years. In January, New York Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin introduced A.8895, which defines cyberbullying as:

“engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts of abusive behavior over a period of time by communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, posting statements on the Internet or through a computer network.”

The measure further defines “abusive behavior” as:

“taunting; threatening; intimidating; insulting; tormenting; humiliating; disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs, either actual or modified, of a minor; disseminating the private, personal or sexual information, either factual or false, of a minor; or sending hate mail.

Corwin introduced the measure in part in response to the September 2011 suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Williamsville, N.Y. The Buffalo News reported that Rodemeyer was the subject of cyberbullying and other forms of bullying because he was gay.

“Bullying is a long-standing problem among school-aged children in New York State, and throughout the nation,” Corwin said in a news release. “With the increasing accessibility of electronic means of communication, bullying has transformed from a predominately school-based issue to a broader societal problem. Jamey’s story shocked our community — and other small communities across the nation — to its very core, and we cannot allow cyber-bullying to continue without penalty. We must take a firm stand against this destructive and devastating behavior.”

Corwin’s measure, which has 10 co-sponsors, provides that violators would face an “unclassified misdemeanor by a fine of up to one thousand dollars and/or up to one year imprisonment.”

But Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, has expressed concerns about the proposal. She says that many of the terms in the bill — taunting, insulting, humiliating, and embarrassing photographs — are “too vague.”

“We should not be looking at the creation of criminal laws to ensure that schools are safe and free from cyberbullying,” Willard said. “We need to make sure that schools are effectively addressing all forms of bullying.” She pointed out that New York already has a cyber-harassment law on the books that could address some of the more egregious situations.

Corwin’s bill has been sent to the Assembly’s Committee on Education.

Tags: , ,