Missouri has joined the growing number of states introducing legislation to stop “cyberbullying,” a phenomenon associated with the growing popularity of FaceBook, Twitter, and other social networking tools.
Legislators in the Show-Me State are considering updating its Safe Schools Act to list specific categories of “protected students.” The law, originally passed in 1996 and updated in 2006, requires all state schools create anti-bullying policies.
Proponents such as State Rep. Sara Lampe (D-Springfield) argue the act’s current language is too vague to protect all students who could be subjected to bullying. Among the enumerated groups to be granted additional protection in legislation sponsored by Lampe are the disabled; gays and lesbians; those distinguished by race, religion, gender, or ancestry; and others.
‘Not Internet or Social Networking’
Advocates of cyberbullying laws argue the issue is on the rise as a result of several national and statewide reports, in addition to a rash of articles made popular on the Internet.
The focus on cyberbullying is causing numerous jurisdictions to draft or adopt additional laws in an attempt to curb such activities, but many of those plans focus on technology or on certain types of children who are subjected to bullying rather than at the root issue, says Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network.
Although technology may have changed some bullies’ tactics, there’s really no change in the basic issue, Messer says. It’s not the Internet or social networking that is at the heart of the problem, he says, despite what some recent news coverage would indicate.
Protecting Certain Groups
“All bullying is wrong,” Messer said. “The problem with some of the focus on trying to prevent bullying is on where we divide the line on why bullying occurs.”
The proposed revisions to Missouri’s Safe Schools Act would list “protected students,” but enumerating a protected class at the expense of others not on the list would not be equitable, Messer observed.
If the focus is on trying to protect a certain minority group from bullying, then bullies move on to another group, Messer explained. “Bullying is an expression of human nature. It tends to happen with immature groups. There will be a social structure and a pecking order. The focus has been on politically incorrect bullying. All bullying should be addressed equally.”
Technology Not the Issue
Too often, Messer explained, the efforts to stop bullying focus more on those who are attacked than on those doing the bullying or on the methods of bullying. Though some of the recent focus has been on social networking, the technology itself isn’t the important issue, Messer said.
“The social networks are just a modern form of expression,” Messer said.
“There was bullying long before the Internet, and there will continue to be bullying with new forms of communication that haven’t even been thought of yet. Right now we are just more sensitized to the subject as a whole.”
Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.