Last week, California joined the growing number of states that have passed laws against cyberbullying—harassment inflicted not by physically menacing bullies at schools but through social networking sites, instant messenger programs, and other forms of digital communication.
As of January 1, officials in California schools may suspend or expel students who harass their peers through cyberbullying, the Washington Post reports. Like California's law, anti-cyberbullying laws passed in other states call on school districts to develop policies regarding cyberbullying detection and punishment. Other states with cyberbullying laws include: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington.
More laws are needed because the problem is becoming increasingly widespread. According to a 2006 National Crime Prevention Council study, 40 percent of teens surveyed had experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime. The study also found cyberbullying to be most common among females and adolescents who are 15 and 16 years old.
Perhaps one of the most well-known cases of cyberbullying is that of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Missouri who hanged herself after being harassed online by a middle-aged woman posing as a teenage boy on MySpace.com. After courting Meier and gaining her trust, 49-year-old Lori Drew (known to Meier as Josh) began sending insulting, hurtful messages to Meier, who had a history of depression and low self-esteem. Before her suicide, Meier told her mother of online posts including "Megan Meier is a slut" and "Megan Meier is fat," ABC News reports.
Though laws against cyberbullying represent progress toward preventing it in the future, cases of cyberbullying are, for the time being, difficult to investigate. Because of the Web's anonymity, it is often tough for school officials to track bullies, and in other instances, adults may not fully understand the technology used to commit cyberbullying. School officials are also weary of crossing the line between protecting students from harassment and respecting their right to free speech, especially speech that takes place outside of school.