Monitoring the Cyberbullies While Protecting Free Speech

Monitoring the Cyberbullies While Protecting Free Speech
In one Los Angeles school district, officials have hired a company to spy on their students social media pages. The decision to hire the company was made after two students committed suicide last year as a result of cyberbullying.

“Cyberbullying” is a new term recently created which means to bring a person to a state of misery via the internet. The concept did not exist, obviously, prior to the existence of the internet and social media. In the past, people, particularly young persons in school, had to make one another miserable in the old fashioned way, by taunting and ridiculing them in person. When I was a child, my fellow classmates bullied me by crossing their eyes every time I looked at them, and then laughed at me when I freaked out because I was terrified of crossed eyes. Right away, I began to holler and cry, which made all of the other pupils laugh and brought the entire class to a state of pandemonium. I ran up to my teacher and threw my arms around her waist, begging her to protect me from the other kids. I tried my best to not look at her too closely, because if I had, I would not have been able to avoid noticing that she was doing her best to suck in her breath and hold back her own giggles. When the school day ended, I was chased home by my classmates, who ran behind me chanting, “Fatso! Fatso!” and after I matured a few years later, added “Tits! Tits!” to their awful, malicious cries.

Back then, parents and teachers were less enlightened, and no adults talked about bullying at all. On my elementary school report cards, my teachers assigned a failing grade to me in the category of “Getting along with others.” My parents thought it was no big deal at all, since I got outstanding grades in all of the academic subjects, which were what really mattered, according to them.
There were times when, like the children last year in Las Angeles, I felt like killing myself.

Now the internet has come along and the popularity of social media among school children has upped the ante a lot. If a kid gets bullied, it may not just be in front of a few others, but in front of the entire school and the entire world via social media. If she gets pushed around and humiliated via computer in one grade, the kids in the next grade will know about it and may be waiting for her. She may feel trapped to the point where there is no escape. She may see no way out but to commit suicide.

Some civil libertarians are protesting that the school district is violating the students’ rights to privacy and free speech by taking the action that they have. Those protestors are not incorrect in their view. However, to quote Abraham Lincoln in another discussion about civil rights and liberties, “The wolf and the sheep cannot agree upon a definition of the word liberty.” The school bullies would definitely like to have their rights to taunt and torment others in privacy protected. The district has decided, however, in favor of the rights of the victims not to be driven to suicide.

It seems that the decision ought to be applauded. If the school district attempts to step beyond its proper bounds and misuse its authority to silence dissent or free speech regarding issues of politics or religion or any other social issues about which free and fair discourse is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, then there will be plenty of people around to monitor the monitors. In this way, hopefully, young people can remain both safe and free.

Written By: Bird Trungma