John Palfrey, of Harvard Law School, said a task force he led in 2008 left open the question of whether bullying is on the rise.
“It is quite clear that more young people are bullying one another than ever before via digital technologies,” he said. “What is not clear is whether this replaces any traditional, offline forms of bullying. It could be that bullying is neither up nor down as an overall trend, but rather just shifting venues.”
Palfrey chaired the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which brought together 29 companies, child advocacy groups, and academics. Earlier this year, the panel issued its recommendations for keeping kids safe online, noting that no single approach is foolproof and that parent and teacher oversight is vital. (See “Panel: Technology alone can’t protect kids online.”)
Judi Westberg Warren, president of Web Wise Kids, said her nonprofit online safety group favored education programs. She cautioned that it would be a challenge to impose criminal sanctions that would survive constitutional scrutiny.
“Many actions that would fall under the definition of cyber bullying are not criminal,” she said. “It is also important to separate actions of kids versus actions of adults. Any legislation considered must be careful to avoid criminalizing youth-to-youth communications.”
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