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December 5, 2011

While the internet has proven to be an effective tool for communication, marketing and information-gathering, over the past two decades, the proliferation of social networking sites and user-provided content sites have ushered in a new era of bullying among children, teenagers, and even adults. Although the term “bully” tends to draw images of a schoolyard cretin, hovering over a nerdy classmate demanding his lunch money, the internet provides an opportunity for bullies to attack their prey from a distance, anonymously and with a wider reaching audience. Cyber-bullying is the use of the internet or other related technological devices to intentionally or purposely harm another person in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner. The concept of cyber-bullying has been expanded to include the use of threatening or harassing emails to the victim, the use of the victim’s personal information at websites or forums which would embarrass or annoy the victim, or the posting of gossip or rumors about the victim on social networking sites. The most alarming aspect of cyber-bullying is that the definition changes and expands over time as technology and access to technology develops.

Cyber-bullying had been receiving attention from the media prior to 2010, but gained greater exposure when the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi provided a face to the problem. His suicide on September 22, 2010 was a direct result of cyber-bullying by two fellow students who streamed live video of Clementi’s sexual encounter with another male.

On January 6, 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, which expanded New Jersey’s first anti-bullying law, passed in 2002. The new law, which went into effect with the current school year, requires school officials to combat incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying and provides intensive training and reporting requirements for schools. Included in the law are incidents that occur off school grounds, including cyber-bullying, if it “substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students.” This expansive language provides an avenue for students suffering from cyber-bullying to have issues addressed by their teachers and education staff, with the goal of providing a healthy environment for students both in and out of the classroom. On October 9, 2011 New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow issued a Letter to the Editor for state-wide print and Internet news outlets, regarding the new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and the necessity of its enforcement. Dow specifically addressed cyber-bullying, stating that “it can leave victims feeling like the entire world is bullying them, and there is no escape to be found anywhere.” An increase of awareness of these issues, Dow espouses, will increase the likelihood that a victim will report cyber-bullying, thereby removing the anonymity of attackers.

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