In September 2012, I made the commitment to put out a new video every week. Since then, I’ve done a lot of talking from the couch. Here are the top five most popular videos that were created and released this year.
1. Can you put a Sex Video on the Internet Without Consent?
2. Response to Rehtaeh Parsons’ Suicide Due to Bullying
3. Avoid Being the next Turner Barr by Registering your Trademark
4. How to Make a Contract
5. Response to Rebecca Ann Sedwick Cyberbullying Suicide
One of the firm’s blog posts about The North Face vs The South Butt trademark issues got over 40,000 hits this year, courtesy of Reddit. Its corresponding video also got a lot of hit and is Carter Law Firm’s all-time most popular video.
It’s back to school time and most parents are rejoicing that their little angels are going to be at school 6-8 hours a day for the next 9 months. They’re going to be spending a lot more time than their peer group than during the summer so it might be a good time to review your family’s rules regarding where and how they spend their time online.
I know a lot of parents are concerned about cyberbullying – from a victim and perpetrator perspective. Here are my tips to help parents prevent their child from being involved in a cyberbullying situation.
1. Wherever your children are active online, you need to be there too.
Whatever social media sites your kids are using, you need to have an account and be connected to them, to at least be aware of how and to whom they are communicating. There should be a clear expectation that they can’t create a profile on a site or add an app to their phone without your permission.
2. Address behavior where your child may be bullying others or being bullied.
Have high expectations for your child’s behavior. They can have fun with their friends, but it shouldn’t cross the line into being cruel. You don’t want them to develop the habit of shooting their mouth off whenever they want online.
Likewise, be understanding and empathetic if your child is being targeted by their peers for being different. Support them and don’t ignore it. Work with them to decide the best way to deal with it.
3. Educate your children about communicating with strangers online.
Each family is free to set their own rules, but in general, I don’t recommend that parents allow their children to form relationships with people online that they don’t know in real life.
4. Educate your children about the potential effects of every post.
Once a post is out there, you can never fully take it back. It will always be on a server somewhere. Even if the original post is deleted, you have no control over whether others took a screenshot or shared it with others before it was deleted. My rule of thumb is never post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper. The same idea should apply to sending text messages and taking pictures with your phone.
5. Know how to access your child’s cell phone.
I generally support respecting your children’s privacy but parents should be able to check their child’s text messages, pictures, and apps if a situation warrants it.
6. Cut off the bully’s access to your child.
There are ways to block users and report abusive people on every social media site that I know of. One of the best ways to help a child begin to feel better is to cut off the bully’s ability to communicate with them. If they’re being bullied via text message, consider changing their number.
7. If your child is being abused, report it to the appropriate social media forum, email provider, or cell phone service provider.
The terms of service have rules against using their forum to harass others and a social media site has the authority to suspend an abusive person’s account if they think it’s necessary.
8. Keep a record of the abuse.
There are times it makes sense to pursue a civil lawsuit or get law enforcement involved. If you do that, you will have to prove that the harassment occurred. A court can be sympathetic to your story, but they cannot punish the wrongdoer without sufficient evidence. Take screenshots of abusive posts on social media sites and don’t delete the abusive emails or text messages.
When I was planning out my year, I learned that January is National Stalking Awareness month. This inspired me to look up the laws on cyberstalking and cyberharassment in Arizona.
When I think about stalking, I think about the guy who follows you from the shadows and hides in the bushes and watches you with binoculars. They always know where you are and show up wherever you go “by coincidence.” When we first started acknowledging stalking as a crime, the perpetrator had to be within physical proximity to you. In person stalking is still an issue and now we have to worry about cyberstalking too – people tracking you wherever you go via the internet and using your posts against you to know where you’re going and to harass you in person and online. Some of these perpetrators do things like attach a GPS to your car so they can track your movements. Creepy!
Stalking and harassment are different, but there’s often overlap between the two. I think when you’re being stalked, you’re also being harassed once you know you have a stalker but the reverse isn’t always true. You can be harassed without being stalked. These crimes are state law crimes, so the definitions may be different depending on where you live. I recommend you check your state’s laws to make sure that they’ve been updated to include cyberstalking and cyberharassment.
Here are the laws in Arizona:
Cyberstalking: Intentionally or knowingly engaging in conduct that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or their immediate family’s safety, including the fear of death. (Class 5 Felony); Penalty: 9 months in jail and up to a $150,000 fine
Cyberharassment: Communicating with a person with the intent to harass them or with the knowledge that the person was being harassed. (Class 1 Misdemeanor); Penalty: Up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine
There’s also a separate law for harassing someone via electronic communications. The definition and penalty is the same as cyberharassment except that it specifies that it applies to harassing, intimidating, terrifying, and/or threatening someone. It seems redundant.
And that’s just the criminal law side. If you cyberstalk or cyberharass someone, you may also be sued for damages in civil court.
On top of that, you may get in trouble with the company who provided you the means to stalk or harass the person. If you do it from your work computer, you might be fired. If you do it via your school’s network, you could be suspended or expelled. If you do it from one of your social media accounts, you can be kicked off the site.
So what are the take-home lessons?
If you’re mad at someone or want to give them a hard time, think twice before you begin your course of action. It may not take much to cross the line into cyberharassment. The consequences might be way worse than you think.
If you’re being cyberharassed or cyberstalked, report it – to law enforcement, to the site or company that’s facilitating it, and possibly call a lawyer. Cyberharassment sucks and you don’t have to put up with it.
Last week, the world was saddened to learn about the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer. This 14 year-old was repeatedly bullied by his peers since the fifth grade. To the outside world, it seemed like this was a child with enough self-esteem to overcome this adversity. He had support from his therapist, social worker, friends, and family. He even made a video for the It Gets Better Project where he said, “All you have to do is hold your head up and you’ll go far.” All of this support wasn’t enough to keep Jamey from taking his own life.
According to reports, Jamey was repeated bullied at school and online. It’s not uncommon for victims of bullying to remain quiet because they are too ashamed to report that they are being victimized. Also, many teens feel a need to be independent and handle their problems on their own. They need to know that they have resources and recourse for addressing cyberbullying when it occurs.
Here are my top three tips for responding to cyberbullying.
1. Limit Who Has Access To You Online
Jamey received hateful messages via Formspring. In his It Gets Better video, he admitted it was a mistake to create a Formspring account. It allowed people to send him hateful messages anonymously. I wish Jamey knew he could have avoided this harassment. You can adjust your Formspring settings to disallow anonymous postings. It won’t stop all the harassing posts, but it will stop anyone who is too cowardly to let their name be seen. Likewise on Facebook, you can adjust your settings so certain people can’t see you at all or so that only your friends can send you messages or post on your wall. On Twitter, you can block people who are harassing you.
2. Report Abuse To The Website Where It Occurs
If you’re being harassed on a social media website, report it! Formspring, Twitter, and Facebook all have policies against using their sites to abuse other users. The same holds true for email providers. I suspect these site start by warning users who violate their terms of service, but they don’t change their behavior, they could have their account suspended.
3. Keep A Record Of The Abuse
I know it’s hard to do, but don’t delete abusive posts, emails or text messages. Take screenshots of posts online in case the bully deletes it later. It’s easier to prove you’re being abused when there’s hard evidence. It’s not a he said-she said situation at that point.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself and report abuse. I know it’s scary, but remember that reporting abuse is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.