FCC Cyberbullying, Social Site Education Rules Questioned

Published November 5, 2010

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered the implementation of education programs on cyberbullying and safe use of social networking sites for schools and libraries receiving E-Rate funds.

E-Rate, officially the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, provides discounts to assist most U.S. schools and libraries in obtaining telecommunications and Internet access. It is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the FCC. USAC allocates $2.25 billion for the program each year.

“This is another instance of burdening students with activities they don’t need,” said Michael Van Beek, education director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based education and research institution. “Students have negotiated puberty and adolescence for centuries without a government agency forcing them to neglect academics for classes on how to play nice.”

Compliance Required
Congressional revisions to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2007 prompted the FCC’s order this past September. Compliance with the initial iteration of CIPA had been required by all institutions receiving E-Rate discounts since 2001.

Schools and libraries previously were required to filter inappropriate Internet content and institute safety policies for E-Rate eligibility consideration.

Cyberbullying prompted two recent well-publicized suicides, the third-leading cause of death among youths between the ages of 10 and 24.

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) claims nearly half of all U.S. teenagers are subjected to cyberbullying, defined as “when teens use the Internet, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”

Cyberbulling Myths Rebutted
Researchers Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind challenge such assertions as the NCPC’s as sensationalism. Respectively senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and professor of women’s studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, Males and Lind collaborated on an April 2010 New York Times oped, “The Myth of the Mean Girl.”

Their oped refutes the idea that bullying—cyber or otherwise—is a widespread phenomenon.

Males and Chesney wrote, “This mythical wave of girls’ violence and meanness is, in the end, contradicted by reams of evidence from almost every available and reliable source. Yet news media and myriad experts, seemingly eager to sensationalize every ‘crisis’ among young people, have aroused unwarranted worry in the public and policy arenas.

“The unfortunate result is more punitive treatment of girls, including arrests and incarceration for lesser offenses like minor assaults that were treated informally in the past, as well as alarmist calls for restrictions on their Internet use,” they added.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Infotech & Telecom News.

Internet Resources:

“Cyberbullying,” National Crime Prevention Council Web site: http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying.

“The Myth of Mean Girls,” The New York Times, Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind, April 1, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/opinion/02males.html?partner=rss&emc=rss.

“E-Rate Curriculum Sample,” i-Safe: the Leader in Internet Safety Information: https://auth.isafe.org/store/docs/E-Rate_Curriculum_Sample.pdf.

“Sixth Report and Order,” Federal Communications Commission, released September 28, 2010: http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1001/FCC-10-175A1.pdf.

“Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act,” 110th U.S. Congress (2007-2008): http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:S.49: