A growing “culture of cyber bullying” has emerged online in order to target vulnerable users and silence them, according to experts.
“Cyberbullying has reached epidemic proportions,” said Matthew Healy, a lawyer at law firm Healy & Fox who is the author of the book, Cyberbullying and the Law: Protecting Victims and Protecting Communities.
“It is a crime against humanity and has nothing to do with a person’s ability to speak, write or communicate.”
A report published last week by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division highlighted the growing threat of cyberbullyings, which it called “a serious and pervasive problem.”
It found that nearly 70 percent of cyber-bullying victims are women and that a majority of victims have no idea what the consequences of online harassment are.
“In a society where everyone has the right to express their opinions and express their concerns and their fears and the right not to be intimidated, cyberbullies are an easy target,” Healy said.
“There’s no real legal process that prevents them from engaging in their activities.
We are witnessing a growing phenomenon of cyber harassment, and it’s a real problem.”
In a recent poll of more than 4,000 U.K. adults conducted by ICM Research, 59 percent of respondents said cyberbullied people should be able to sue cyberbullenders.
But the vast majority of the survey respondents said they have been harmed online.
They were split between those who believe cyberbullers should have to pay damages and those who said it should be left to the individual.
Healy said cyber-bullyers often don’t get a fair shake from their victims.
“There’s a very narrow range of individuals who can be targeted in a cyberbully, and those individuals are often the most vulnerable to these kinds of threats,” Heymans said.
The online harassment epidemic, Healy added, is “a huge threat to our society and our culture, and people need to be able understand and deal with the implications of this issue.”
“We need to make sure that people are able to have a voice and a voice is not a threat to the rights of a person or a person to have that voice,” he said.
“We are seeing this phenomenon that’s sweeping through the country, and there’s no doubt that there’s an element of truth to the sentiment that cyberbulling is a problem.
But there is also a lot of truth in the notion that people should have a say.”
A new digital strategy is neededHealy, who is also the founder and president of the Cyber Violence and Cyber Crime Prevention Initiative at the University of Central Florida, said the Cyberbulling and Cyberbullied Bill of Rights Act (CVCAB), which has passed the House and Senate, is a necessary step to end the epidemic.
“It is important to get this law in place to stop this,” he added.
The bill would require cyber-harassment victims to receive compensation from cyberbullishers, but it also allows them to file a lawsuit against their abusers online.
“What the bill does is to help victims,” Heylas said.
He said cyberharassment has already had a chilling effect on some individuals, including teenagers who are “uncomfortable” with speaking out against cyberbullagers.
“People are feeling they are under siege, and the Internet is being used to do that to people,” he explained.
“If you’re young, and you feel you have to keep your mouth shut, that’s not good for you.”
The bill’s supporters say it’s time for lawmakers to step in.
“The cyber-violence problem is serious and the cyber-abuse problem is also serious,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
“We’ve got to address it.
Cyberbullies and cyberbulls have got to be held accountable.
Cyber bullying is unacceptable and cyber bullying is a threat.””
I’ve been very clear, this is a cyber-violent problem,” Cornyn added.
“This is a culture of cyber violence.
We have to take steps to prevent it.”