Your Kids Cyber-bullying? Eventually You Could be Held Responsible.

In my blog series Fighting Fair on the Internet I have been writing in general about the varying problems I see with use of the internet.  After all, given my unique position and area of law I work in, I have had the opportunity to see all kinds of situations that most people never even think about.  Seriously – the good, bad, and the ugly – I see all of it.  And why do I write about it?  Because everyday I see people making stupid mistakes that eventually end up coming back to haunt them in one way or another and because I think education on these issues, raising awareness, plays a key part in reducing the amount of problems I see.

A colleague of mine showed me an NBC Miami article where Central Florida attorney Mark O’Mara was considering writing law that would give law enforcement officials the ability hold parents accountable for the bad things their kids were doing online.  In response to an arrest back in 2013 of two girls in a Florida bullying and suicide investigation, attorney O’Mara wrote on his blog:

The question is this: is their ignorance and apathy about their daughter’s cyber-bullying criminal? Under our current laws, it looks like the answer is “no.” Should that sort of willful blindness or gross negligence be criminal? I think it should, and here’s why: if a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone while using a parent’s gun, the parent can be held responsible. If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided by the parent, how is that different?

If you ask me, I am already all for harsher punishment for internet defamers and harassers so his argument makes sense.  That is, of course, so long as the punishment is reasonable but yet has enough teeth to ensure that parents actually monitor and pay some level of attention to what their kids are doing online.  If you are a parent, you SHOULD be monitoring what your kids are doing – not just to keep yourself out of trouble but to protect your child from all the dangers online (physical, mental, and legal).

After my first presentation to high school students regarding internet use and the repercussions from the same, it was abundantly clear that a lot more education was needed.  I went as far as explaining to the students that after my presentation they probably knew more than their parents did – after all, most of us old enough to have teenagers really didn’t have internet growing up and we especially didn’t have social media.  I encouraged students to go home and talk with their parents about what they learned…because not all advice that kids get from their parents is the best – especially when it comes to online issues.

As some food for thought, according to the Cyberbullying Research Institute, 48 states, plus Washington, DC, have laws that include cyber-bullying or online harassment.  Out of those states, 44 of them have criminal sanctions for cyber-bullying or electronic harassment.  Some information regarding the different state laws on these issues can be found here.  Similarly, just remember that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean “anonymous.”  In most cases, your identifying information is only one or two well written subpoenas away.

Long story short, with the continuing increase of use of the internet, don’t be surprised when laws start being enacted to hold parents liable for the wrongs of their children.  Want to be proactive and learn more for yourself, your kids, or even for a group?  Contact me!  See my contact page for more information.

Have thoughts on this to share?  Share them in the comments below!

 

 

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Kids Get the Short End of the Lesson Learning Stick

There is a reason that many of us joke that we sure are glad that we were “young and dumb” before the advent of the internet and technology like smart phones with built in digital cameras, etc.

In my day, being “young and dumb” wasn’t the societal crime that it is made out to be today.  Not because stupid things didn’t happen but mostly because no one knew about the ridiculous things that happened – well except for those few people, usually some friends, that were around at the time.  Sure, there might have been rumors about what happened, but typically there wasn’t evidence of it.  For many of us, were lucky if we had a 35mm camera which required actual film that you had to take to someone to be developed by some stranger…and if you were from a small town, maybe it wasn’t even a stranger.  If you were really lucky, you might have had a Polaroid which gave you instant pictures!  That was as close to “instant” as you got.  Even then, unless you showed that particular picture to every single person in the entire school…not that many people knew that it even existed.  And hidden videos…yeah, have you ever tried to take a “secret” video with a device that required a VHS and had to be carried on your shoulder?  Bullying?  Yeah, it existed…but at least then there were ways to get away from it.  Indeed, while we may not have had all these new advances in technology, in a lot of ways, we were actually really lucky!

We didn’t have social media postings that spread like wildfire and fistfights that got caught on tape.  We weren’t taking selfies and posting half naked pictures of ourselves for the general public to see and basing our self worth on “likes” and “shares.”  More importantly, if we made a dumb mistake, we often had the typical punishment handed down from parents, the school, or maybe the authorities if it was more “drastic” but even then…very few knew about it and, generally speaking, it didn’t haunt you for the rest of your life.  It wasn’t blasted on the internet for the whole world to see…forever.  It’s made even worse by our current news media who pick up a story presumably for “ratings” and call it news…meanwhile the kids, and their futures, are really suffering.  Indeed, back in the day kids could do dumb things, learn from their mistakes, and grow into respectable and responsible adults that have nothing more but stories to tell and wisdom to pass on to younger generations.  Not anymore.  Kids get the short end of the lesson learning stick…

Of course there is an exception to every rule…but generally speaking, kids (and adults) now have to be smarter and think ahead far more than ever before.  As I discuss in Part 4 of my blog series of Fighting Fair on the Internet, not only could you be banned from usage of platforms, but you could get into fights, you could end up with creepy stalkers, you could have a run in with the law – both criminal and civil (even if you tell the truth), you could permanently be scared by something that can’t be removed, and you could lose out on wonderful opportunities – for jobs, college, volunteer organizations, and relationships…and over what?  Some dumb shenanigan that you tried to pull or some other posting made by either yourself, or someone else – that can be haunting forever.

It is clear that times have changed.  Drastically…and unless you are in a position to see and deal with all of the repercussions of what goes on, us adults may not even really know the full extent of what goes on and what can happen.  After all, I myself was completely naive about many things until I got into the current area of law and career path that I am in.  But I have seen a lot – and what I can tell you is that kids (and adults) need some serious education.  I’m not just taking about not being a bully…but far beyond that!

Next Monday I will be giving a presentation to a fully body of High School students on internet use and the consequences of the same.  I have been saying for a long time that education needs to happen now and I am pleased to start that process!  If you have or know of a school or youth group that you think need to hear more about this topic, from someone who really understands and can present the information in an informative and entertaining way, consider sending that person this blog article or contact me.  I am currently booking lectures for students (and adults) for 2016 through June 2017.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.