A very well written article on cyber bullying by Officer Vanteylingen, there is also a link at the bottom of the article to a radio interview he did.
Recently the questions were posed to me: Are the police dealing with any "cyber bullying?" Is it even something they can deal with?
The answer to the first part is easy, and is a resounding yes; the police are dealing with cyber bullying. The second question is a little more complicated. Occasionally there are instances of cyber bullying that we can deal directly with, other times we have to enlist some outside help.
Many acts online are petty, horrible, and mean, but ultimately not unlawful. We (the police, as representatives of the government) are required to balance people’s First Amendment rights to free speech against laws like Colorado Revised Statutes or C.R.S. 18-9-111 - Harassment – Kiana Arellano’s Law.
We do certainly have laws that can be applicable to some incidents online. Harassment was amended by the state legislature in 2015 to catch up with more modern technology and allow law enforcement greater ability to charge cyber bullying than we possessed before. We can and do charge individuals with Harassment for cyber bullying actions they engage in. Depending on what is actually said, other charges may also be applicable, like: C.R.S. 18-3-207 - Criminal extortion, C.R.S. 18-7-107 - Posting a private image for harassment and several others. Despite these offenses, there are still times when our laws do not address reprehensible behavior online.
Before enforcement, we take opportunities to help prevent and recognize cyber bullying. I firmly believe that our biggest tool against cyber bullying is education. I currently teach a course on Cyber Safety with all of the 5th and 7th graders during their tech time at Rifle Middle School, all the 9th graders during their computer classes at Rifle High School, and frequently a course on Digital Etiquette in several other 9th grade classes in their Freshman Academy classes, again at Rifle High School. These classes speak to a wide variety of strategies to stay safe online including but not limited to: limiting your contact with unknown/anonymous users online, disconnecting and taking a break from social media, telling an adult (parent, teacher, law enforcement) when you need help, and Do Not Take Nude or Semi-Nude Pictures. I repeat that last one a lot, while the number of times we deal with it is relatively low, the impact on the victim can be horrendous. The best way to prevent it occurring is to make sure that there aren’t any such pictures to be shared, by Not Taking Those Pictures. If we were having this conversation face to face I’d nearly be yelling that message by now, so please excuse the misplaced capitalizations, but it is a message I feel very strongly about.
Sometimes there are other, more effective, options before law enforcement becomes involved. We work closely with our local schools to address incidents that may not be criminal, but have a school nexus. These instances are frequently best addressed by the school.
Other strategies to deal with cyber bullying include reporting such cyber bullying activity to the app or webpage. Facebook is not government-owned, and not subject to all of the same Constitutional provisions and limitations. They have greater latitude to deal with (delete, lock, block, etc.) actions and statements that are a violation of their user agreements. Another under used option available on most social media is simply to block the offending party.
A useful tool to combat some of the cyber bullying is to unplug for a while. Suspend or de-activate accounts and to try interacting with people face to face again. This separation can allow a person to realize that they need not be as constantly engaged with their social media as they may have been previously. We are also finding that if they do not disengage it becomes much more detrimental to their mental and sometimes physical health. While bullying once upon a time required the bully to be face to face, or in extreme cases to call a victim, now we are constantly surrounded by it. We willingly bring along the means of that harmful communication (computer, tablet, cell phone), and refuse to put it down. In an article on Social Media Today they cite that the average person spends almost 2 hours a day on social media (approximately 116 minutes) (Asano, 2017). An article by the New York Times cites a number released by Facebook that states their average user spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook (Stewart, 2016). Living in this state of being constantly plugged in and not having any escape from those pressures seems to be detrimental, especially to youth. There is scientific literature that suggests increased social media use in teens may be tied to an increase in youth suicide attempts. While this is hardly settled science, and concerns immensely complicated situations, the phenomenon certainly bears more study.
It has been my experience that much of the drama we receive calls about involves the ability to say things 1) quickly (not having to think or wait until you see that person again) 2) from behind the safety and believed anonymity of a keyboard and 3) forgetting that what they say may live on in perpetuity entirely out of their control. This seems to lead to much less civil conversations.
So what can you do?
Is someone else communicating offensively online? Report it to the website or app. Block that party. If the communications are especially offensive, or continue despite having been asked to stop, please contact your local law enforcement.
We must also examine our behaviors and actions online. Would you make that same statement to someone standing directly in front of you? Would you say it in front of your grandmother? If the answer to these questions is no, please reconsider your statement. While we don’t control others’ behavior, we do control our own, if you are interested in a kinder more civil discourse, please hold your actions to such a standard. Maybe you need a break, turn off the device, or deactivate the account. Meet up with a friend to have coffee or tea and talk, face to face.
If you have a child, please monitor their actions and interactions online and make sure that you understand and approve of the apps they are using. Establish a dialogue and expectations about their behavior online, including enforcing time limits. Create and enforce a time when no one is allowed on devices, like at family dinner. Please let them know that if they have problems that they can come to you or another trusted adult.
Finally, remember if you are having trouble online or otherwise, please tell someone. We cannot help if we don’t know there is a problem.
School Resource Officer Will Van Teylingen
Rifle Police Department