Well done Alex! Good on you for bypassing a useless system that tacitly allows cyberbullies to wreak havoc and for standing up for yourself. Your school should have protected you, but instead, reportedly hid behind the old “it happened off campus” excuse. I am sick to death of this excuse. Kids are taking their own lives because of cyberbullying. It takes a heartless school not to intervene when clear cases of cyberbullying come to light.
When the police and her school failed to act, it was great to see that Alex and her parents found a more effective avenue. They slapped the bullies with a lawsuit:
When a Georgia middle school student reported to police and school officials that she had been bullied on Facebook, they told her there was not much they could do because the harassment occurred off campus.
So the 14-year-old girl, Alex Boston, is using a somewhat novel strategy to fight back: She’s slapping her two classmates with a libel lawsuit.
As states consider or pass cyberbullying laws in reaction to high-profile cases around the country, attorneys and experts say many of the laws aren’t strong enough, and lawsuits such as this one are bound to become more commonplace.
“A lot of prosecutors just don’t have the energy to prosecute 13-year-olds for being mean,” said Parry Aftab, an attorney and child advocate who runs stopcyberbullying.org. “Parents are all feeling very frustrated, and they just don’t know what to do.”
Almost every state has a law or other policy prohibiting cyberbullying, but very few cover intimidation outside of school property.
Alex, who agreed to be identified to raise awareness about cyberbullying, remembers the mean glances and harsh words from students when she arrived at her suburban Atlanta middle school. She didn’t know why she was being badgered until she discovered the phoney Facebook page. It was her name and information, though her profile picture was doctored to make her face appear bloated.
The page suggested Alex smoked marijuana and spoke a made-up language called “Retardish.” It was also set up to appear that Alex had left obscene comments on other friends’ pages, made frequent sexual references and posted a racist video. The creators also are accused of posting derogatory messages about Alex.
“I was upset that my friends would turn on me like that,” she told The Associated Press. “I was crying. It was hard to go to school the next day.”
Alex learned of the phoney page a year ago and told her parents, who soon contacted administrators at Palmer Middle School and filed a report with Cobb County Police.
“At the time this report was taken in May 2011, we were not aware of any cyberbullying law on the books that would take her specific situation and apply it to Georgia law,” said Cobb County police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce.
Police encouraged the Boston family to report the fake account to Facebook. Alex’s family said despite requests to Facebook to take the page down, the company did not do so. The website was taken down around the time the lawsuit was filed a week ago.
We keep on hearing about Facebook’s determination to stop bullying, and that they are vigilant when concerns are raised over cyberbullying. To refuse to delete this page (as has been alleged) is disgraceful. Only when the lawsuit was filed did they respond. What message does that send?
I hope this story puts some major stakeholders on notice. First there are the bullies who hide behind their computer screens as they attempt to dismantle a classmate’s self-esteem. Then there are the police who could at least advocate on behalf of the victim that Facebook take down the offensive material.
My strongest admonition goes to schools. Enough with the excuses! If you are not willing to get involved in serious cases of bullying, regardless of where the bullying takes place, you don’t deserve the privellege of looking after our children. Smarten up!