Just Saying “No” to Cyber Harassment

Jennifer A. Kurtz, MBA

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main . . .

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind . . .
-- Meditation XVII by John Donne (1572-1631)


What is the face of cruelty? Those who experience it directly (the recipient, the agent) or those who experience it indirectly (those who observe, collude, enable, ignore)? Cruelty is neither faceless nor nameless.

Kiana Arellano's Law is an expansion of Colorado's existing anti-harassment law which specifically includes the use of "interactive electronic devices”.  The law is named after a Colorado high school cheerleader whose 2013 suicide attempt, in response to online bullying, left her paraplegic. Also referred to as House Bill 15-1072, it passed the Senate on March 25th, 2015 and now awaits signature by the Governor.i Its enactment by mid-July 2015 means that the cowards who hide behind technological tools to harass, bully, or stalk others will finally be held criminally accountable, with punishments up to six months in jail. The 2015 bill does include explicit language protecting First Amendment rights to express religious, political, and philosophical views. Similar legislation that would have created a new code (rather than expansion of an existing code) failed to pass in 2014.

The 2015 bill acknowledges implicitly the convergence between the digital and analog worlds: what happens in cyberspace is real and has an impact on the physical world. It also implicitly acknowledges that such harassment should be considered criminal regardless of the age of the victim: children are not the only ones who are targeted. A 2014 Pew Research Center study indicates that 40% of adult internet users and 70% of "the youngest internet users" (per this study, those between 18 and 24 years of age) have experienced some form of online harassment.ii

Not being able to see those harassing you does not make them easier to ignore. In 1978, 13 years before CallerID became available, someone started calling my home throughout the night. I couldn't identify the odd, unnatural voice making the obscene statements. Unplugging the phone offered me the only respite, but also left me feeling exposed in case of emergency. As a mom with two children under the age of four, pregnant with my third, and my husband overseas on business travel, reassurance from the police that such callers usually did not take physical action didn't help. Neither the police nor I had the technical tools then to track or apprehend the caller; the legal tools didn't yet exist. The US Congress did not pass the Communications Decency Act until 1996 (most anti-harassment law is enacted at the state level).

No one should be driven to extreme despair because of posts intended to defame or humiliate. Social media sites Twitter and Reddit amended their policies recently to rein in objectionable content positioned as personal attacks (e.g., unauthorized nude photos, revenge porn, and hate speech), reserving the right to lock accounts of those who violate the anti-harassment policies, in addition to shielding the content from public view.iiiFacebook followed suit with its announced policy changes on March 16th.iv

Technology platforms can bring us together; choosing to be a communication "island" is, in fact, increasingly difficult. But those same channels can be used to ostracize and isolate, to send an individual to a virtual island, thus diminishing the whole. Kudos to Colorado lawmakers who believe that we are capable of making the whole stronger by acting responsibly and not sanctioning predatory or cruel behavior under the guise of freedom of speech.

Learn about the online Master of Science in Information Assurance from Regis University. Call 877-820-0581 or request more information.

iiMaeve Dugggan (22 October 2014), "Part 1: Experiencing online harassment." Pew Internet Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/part-1-experiencing-online-harassment/
iii Zach Miners (12 March 2015), "Twitter bans revenge porn and stolen nude photos," PC World. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/2895992/twitter-bans-stolen-nude-photos-and-revenge-porn.html
ivJohn Ribeiro (16 March 2015), "Facebook clarifies rules for content, including definition of nudity and hate speech," PC World. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/2897152/facebook-clarifies-rules-for-content-including-definition-of-nudity.html