Shutting Down Cyber-Bullying
March 3, 2006
Advances in telecommunications and computers have many positive impacts on our economy and society. Unfortunately, this technology also has a dark underbelly where people with sinister intentions prey on innocent victims. These individuals can freely harass or intimidate victims from their private computers, thus violating the safety, security and self-esteem of unsuspecting individuals. One in 17 children ages 10 to 17 have been threatened or harassed online, and about one-third of the children reported the incidents extremely distressing, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire`s Crimes Against Children Research Center. In a recent case, a teenager complained he was constantly teased, taunted and assaulted by school bullies. But the final blow was the humiliation he suffered every time he logged onto the internet: someone had created a website about him that made the student’s life unbearable. The site’s creator invited other kids to join in by posting lewd, sexual comments smearing this student’s reputation. This activity took place over several months before the victim was even aware of the site’s existence. I am co-sponsoring a bill with Assemblyman Gary D. Finch (R,C-Springport), Assemblyman Robert C. Oaks (R,C-Macedon) and State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio (R-Fayette) that would create the Class E felony crime of harassment by electronic mail or computer network. Constant advances in technology create new avenues for individuals to harass, torment and threaten others. By making this a crime of harassment, law enforcement authorities will be better equipped with the proper tools necessary to help reduce these occurrences. According to Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@), an organization dedicated to stopping online harassment, New York State ranks second in the country for the most reported cases of electronic harassment. Nearly 65 percent of all online harassment cases reported were initiated by chatting, instant messaging or e-mail. The chat rooms can also be fertile ground for sexual predators to prey on innocent victims. One of the most popular on-line social networking services where harassment takes place is MySpace.com. The website, with more than 57 million users, allows people to post and share personal information with each other. This can include provocative photographs as well as indecent and derogatory comments that harass users. I recently met with an Auburn student who was the victim of online harassment. The student told me how powerless she felt because the internet service provider took no action to stop the torment. No one should have to go through this experience. The invasive, cowardly harassment of innocent individuals via cyberspace is as frightening to the victim as other forms of bullying. We must have laws in place to respond to how the latest technologies are used to hurt people. My legislation will give law enforcement the authority they need to stop cyber-bullying and make the internet a safer place for families.