Cyberbullying, Cyberlibel

A pastor friend told me one of his parishioners was saying bad — untrue, destructive, reputation-destroying — things about him online, that he had checked with the police, and they told him there were really no laws hindering free speech on the internet. The police said they’d like to do something but had no grounds for doing something. But…  Those days are changing.

Police also said their hands were tied as well because there was no Georgia cyberbullying law they could apply to the situation.

In Georgia, schools can punish students if they bully others at school, but the law governing this does not extend to text messages and social media sites. Georgia does not have a law that covers off-campus harassment, though seven other states do have laws that cover this.

Police in Georgia advised Boston and her parents to file a complaint with Facebook, requesting that the fake account be taken down.

But after several requests to Facebook failed, Boston and her family decided to sue the teens allegedly responsible for the account. Facebook only deleted the account about a week ago after the lawsuit was filed and a story about it aired over the weekend on CNN, Woodward said.

Woodward said there had been no dispute between the teens prior to the bullying.

“She just considers herself a normal, average seventh-grader,” Woodward said. “She had never been targeted or had something like this happen before.”

The alleged teen offenders told school officials that they just didn’t like Boston, according to Woodward. “They said ‘she followed us around school too much.’ There was no real explanation, as is so often the case with these activities. Why kids do things to other kids is a mystery, and is for sure in this case.”

Cyberbullying garnered worldwide attention in 2007 after an adult named Lori Drew was accused of creating a fake Myspace account with her teen daughter and another girl that was used to bully another teenage girl who later committed suicide. Prosecutors later charged Drew under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating Myspace’s terms of service in creating the fake account. Drew was later convicted by a jury on misdemeanor charges, but the conviction was overturned by a judge.

The case prompted new cyberbullying laws to be passed in states across the nation. In 2009, in the wake of the Drew case, a Missouri ninth-grader was arrested for creating a website that disparaged another teen.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    To be realistic, although the days may come where this type of harassment is no longer shrugged off, it will be difficult for the police to pursue all incidences of harassment, slander, libel, etc., online with the money, computer intelligence and resources they currently have. In the church, with folks such as your pastor friend, I think we need to ensure that we work together to stand with one another “in Christ”, in the full armor of God.

    Your Weekly Meanderings & another friend both linked to Frank Viola post’s about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, where he suggests, exegetically examines and outlines how the thorn may be those who continuously harassed Paul, followed him, sought to cause harm, etc. ( http://frankviola.org/2012/04/24/paulsthornintheflesh/ ). Viola’s exegesis certainly rings true to my own experience and resonance w/ Paul’s thorn! As painful as bullying, libel, slander, gossip, cyberbullying and cyberlibel are to experience, perhaps our fundamental remedy will always be to remain “in Christ” – which place is the most secure. We “believe” this battle is really spiritual and as such we know that, although a person or persons seek(s) to cause us harm, s/he/they are not the enemy. Our human desire is to put bars around them, duct tape their mouths or pull the plugs of their computers, or verbally/physically defend ourselves or those we love (i.e., attack the attacker). Those ways are not God’s ways.

    Let’s pray & intercede for one another, and when any in the Body of Christ are thus attacked, may we wisely choose those in whom we can confide, who will pray with us, tell us the truth, and righteously hold us to the truth in Christ. Openness, accountability and sincerity are how we are called to live before God and one another. (2 Cor. 1:12-13)

  • Richard

    Sounds like the pastor needs to have a conversation w/the parishoner and or the elders of the church, not the police. When Christians drag Christians into court it’s the Gospel that suffers.

  • T

    To echo Richard, the fact that a pastor would even need to check with the police regarding this activity *by one of his own parishioners* tells me how lost the concept and practice of church discipline has become. Yes, modern societies need better laws here, but more than that, the church needs to thoughtfully rebuild itself with Matthew 18 as a fleshed out reality, in theory and practice.


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