The Bully and the Protector

There’s no question that technology creates all sorts of challenges and that cyberbullying is among them. Just think of the malice that would have been required to do something similar in the past: Nailing nasty fliers around town took a lot more effort than posting a Facebook page, indicating a greater pathology. Yet, the effect on the victim is similar.
Nonetheless, we should be wary opening the door for government too widely to address bullying, because of both what might slip through in the process and what doing so indicates about our culture:

“I don’t think it’s going to eliminate bullying, but it will put a big dent in it,” said [Sen. John] Tassoni [D, Smithfield]. He refused to provide specifics about possible legislation.
The Rhode Island State Police, too, will again pursue a bill that would give law-enforcement officials the ability to subpoena information about Internet users without having to go through a judge, Tella said. State police will seek a measure that would require Internet services providers, such as Facebook and Google, to provide the name, address, and telephone numbers associated with an account in response to an administrative subpoena signed by a state police superintendent, or other high-ranking law-enforcement official.

Removing the judiciary from the process, shifting its authority in these matters to appointed officials in the executive, erodes protections against encroachment on citizens’ liberty. Whatever the exceptions become, to the rules for subpoenas, will surely expand; cyberbullying, that is, will in short order become a very broad category of online activity.
Of course, the larger problem is that we’re inviting such erosion by our very urge to involve government in the first place. It’s a cycle: As we pass along the responsibilities of membership in a community to government, it becomes easier to conceive of government as the appropriate overseer, leading us to pass along more responsibilities.
Society once had stigma and cultural rules of behavior that helped enforce boundaries. With their evaporation, legal consequences are being substituted, but our system hasn’t proven very effective at implementing objective, narrowly targeted laws.
To be sure, reasons beyond passivity exist for the shift. Social pressure must have had more weight when most people’s lives were lived within a few miles. The black mark of a child’s bad behavior could follow the parents to the workplace and social scene in more tightly woven communities. Homes are now often little more than rest stops in commuters’ lives, so dirty looks at the corner convenience store are less apt to have a substantial effect.

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Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” – Ayn Rand
I cannot think of a single person from my 8th grade class who would not be both guilty of and a victim of this “crime.” Given I went to an awful RI public school full of juvenile delinquents, but some of the same went on in high school when I made the switch to a private school. Back in the good old geocities and AOL days we all used to make websites etc. about people we hated for laughs. It didn’t hurt anything except feelings. It’s folly to think anyone can change such tendencies, especially in children.
This sweeping law will be used for arbitrary or selective enforcement, since every child in our society would be locked up in juvenile hall if it were enforced according to the letter of it. We’re all well aware of how the quintessential “everyone a criminal” speed limit laws have turned from safety ordinances into just another “gotcha” tax for the cash-strapped state.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Dan makes some very good points. Aside from traffic laws, I have several times been a criminal. I think if I made careful study of all the laws that could effect me, I would presently be a criminal. Some activities are made criminal because they are harmful, some are made criminal because the legislature doesn’t know what else to do but wants to look “pro active”, some are just cash cows.
As to “cyber bullying”, I am afraid that I think some of it is a rite of passage. This does not mean I would overlook “cyber” threats of violence and similar matters. As to cyber “flashing”, well that is a world we have made. Now we wish to eliminate the consequences. That is work for adults, not children.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

While I hold the Colonel in the highest regard and integrity, I shiver to think where this could go. You know what the say about the road to hell.

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