Category Archives: The Law

How it’s going wrong on cyberbullying in Indiana

The First Amendment makes things so darned hard sometimes for legislators at all levels of government. Good-intention legislation could just ramrod through with across-the-board bans on everything if you didn’t have to worry about free speech.

But good intentions have always made for quality road pavement. And this is ‘Murica. You’re allowed to talk bad about things without being thrown in jail. But that still doesn’t stop legislation that tends to forget that from coming up now and again.

And in the spotlight this time around is Indiana’s House Bill 1169. Since college newspapers are actually among the best at reporting these kinds of legislation, here’s what the Indiana Daily Student had to say:

“The bill would allow Indiana public schools to punish students who do or say anything that might “reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function,” including otherwise legal speech off campus.”

How does it do that?

“Students can already be reprimanded by their schools for illegal activities, such as trafficking illegal substances.

 But HB 1169 would omit the word “illegal” from current law.”

The legislator who wrote the bill, State Rep. Eric Koch, said the intent of the bill is to — wait for it — prevent cyberbullying. Although, as the Daily Student and Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette pointed out, the term cyberbullying never shows up in the bill.

Really? I couldn’t tell, because all I can see is something that gives school administrators carte blanche to kick students out of school for anything they want. Throwing the word “reasonable” in there doesn’t work. I guaranteed it will get abused, and in a hurry.

And let’s be honest. The biggest target in cyberbullying? Social media. Let’s imagine something like this:

@TypicalTeenager: I hate my math teacher!!!! I really don’t want to go to school tomorrow…

@PublicSchoolPrincipal: @TypicalTeenager I think this reasonably interferes with educational function. You’re expelled.

So, ultimately, this will have a chillng effect on student use of social media, since social media is, by the nature of its popularity, one of the locations most ripe for cyberbullying to be going on.

What’s the solution?

If you want to address cyberbullying with legislation, how about trying legislation that actually a)mentions cyberbullying and b) deals specifically with electronic communication.

A good example is California’s Assembly Bill 86 from 2008. It specifically focused on cyberbullying, and as a result, passed. Not that the bill has been executed perfectly, but it still gives greater limitations than the Indiana bill. And, unlike the Indiana legislation, it includes this tidbit:

This bill, in addition, would give school officials 
grounds to suspend a pupil or recommend a pupil for 
expulsion for bullying, including, but not limited 
to, bullying by electronic act.

You can’t cyberbully without electronics.

It’s very simple. The best way to approach these situations — always — is to determine the absolute bare minimum you need to push the boundaries in order to achieve the desired result. Use a fine chisel to shape this kind of law, don’t dynamite your way to progress.