Cyber Bullying – A Question of Punishment

Thirteen- year- old Megan Meier from Missouri struck up an online relationship with a sixteen- year- old named Josh who claimed to live in a nearby town.

The two communicated for several weeks through MySpace. Megan developed a strong connection to Josh; several weeks later, Josh posted that he no longer wanted to be friends with Megan because he had heard she was not a nice person and said that “the world would be a better place” without her.

On October 17, 2006, Megan hung herself. Shockingly, several weeks later, authorities revealed that Josh did not exist; he was a fictitious person created by Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s former friends. 

Bullying, a widespread and serious problem is no longer limited to the schoolyard. In today’s society which is so technologically advanced, cyber-bullying, which consists of posting offensive posts on social networks, sending harassing emails or text messages, or revealing personal information about a victim without their consent, is now the new form of bullying.

Moreover, cyber-bullying often occurs under the cover of anonymity, since cyber bullies usually have aliases which make it easy to hide one’s true identity.

In recent years, cyber-bulling has lead to tragic and heartrending outcomes such as the victims committing suicide or suffering from severe depression. In schools particularly, cyber-bullying is on the rise.

According to a report of the 2006-07 school year, the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that:

  • 8,166,000 students or 31.7 % of students between the ages 12 – 18 reported they were bullied at school
  • 940,000, or about 3.7 %, reported they were the victims of cyber-bullying on or off school property

Also in recent years, cyber-bulling has increased in terms of tragedies and awareness. As a result, most states have implemented cyber-bulling laws, like California which makes it a misdemeanor to impersonate someone through a website or other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, or threaten. However, the question presented is should cyber-bullying be made a federal crime, thereby invoking a harsher punishment?

In the case of Megan, Lori was convicted of computer fraud in 2008 but the court’s decision was overturned in 2009. In the case of Tyler Clementi, a freshman of Rutgers University who died and was the victim of an internet hate crime, his roommates faced charges of invasion of privacy. These punishments lead to a public outcry for more severe punishment for cyber-bullying.

In an attempt to put an end to the outcry, in 2009 California U.S. Representative Linda Sanchez introduced the Megan Meier Cyber-bulling Prevention Act which makes it a federal crime to use electronic devices to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person” or to “support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior”. However, the bill never became law.

Making cyber-bullying a federal crime will be a difficult task, since our legal system is based on a retributivist system where the punishment must fit the crime. Moreover, punishment should not be implemented based on the public outrage. Although cyber-bullying has serious consequences, which in some cases ends in suicide, this should not influence or cloud the judgment of a prosecutor.

Also, there is the question of society’s role in cyber-bullying. We live in a virtually connected society, in which we are encouraged by social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to post our every thought and whereabouts online, at the same time sacrificing our own privacy for connectedness. Therefore, society needs to be mindful of the level of responsibility required when posting on these social media sites.

Cyber-bullying is a dangerous act that has serious consequences, and living in a society that is ruled by social media, i.e., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., gives us an immense amount of publishing power. However, with such an increase in power there also comes an increase in responsibilty, a thought that may not be on the minds of the current and upcoming social media generation.

In terms of making cyber-bullying a federal crime or having a harsher punishment for cyber-bullies, in the words of the great philosophers John Mills and Jeremy Bentham, “the punishment must fit the crime.” However, if cyber-bulling leads a victim to commit suicide, a question society needs to answer before public outrage is “what is the actual level of influence of these cyber-bullies?”


15 thoughts on “Cyber Bullying – A Question of Punishment

  1. well cyberbullying is a problem. but i have been cyberbullied before. and i think we should treat cyberbullies as we treat real bullies off the web just ignore them and give no reaction unless you are threatend in anyway. then you should tell a respected adult or the othorities.


  2. Also, Josh, this isn’t anything to laugh about. People are dying because of cyberbullying and if you wanna joke about their deaths that’s ur problem.


  3. Cyberbullying should be a crime, it takes lives, is an emotional abuser, how many reasons does the government need to make this against the law??


  4. i think that people need to take concideration in other people and there feelings some peoplke think that they could just go and bully well the cant because what gose around comes around. but for some bullys they get dragged into things but my add is to speak up and spaek lould dont be afraid !!!:)


  5. Cyberbullying is something so many parents worry about every day. In particular, many parents are concerned that their teens will be bullied…and not tell them. If you are concerned that your children are bullied over their cell phones, download MMGuardian Parental Control FREE from
    The app lets you monitor certain bullying-related words in your child’s communication so you are not spying but still know that they are safe!


  6. If something as simple and harmless as messing with the US Mail, or denting someone’s mailbox is a federal crime, then cyberbullying ABSOLUTELY needs to be a federal crime!


  7. Great article! Question…do you think it is all about punishment? What about education…how many adults are oblivious to what is going on online. I know in the media you see the extreme case of parent involvement but do you think that is the norm. I know a lot of our community has no clue on even the basics of what social media can do. “From Facebook, to Twitter, to Foursquare, social media sites are everywhere and full of virtual land mines for our teens. They can quickly become a victim of cyber bullying. Anything they say can and may be used against them by a bully at school, a college admissions counselor or a future boss. There are numerous ways they’re exposed to the world, from harsh life lessons to predators and scam artists. It’s important for parents to teach them how to navigate social media safely, and avoid cyber bullying.”


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