Sticks, Stones, Cell Phones

March 20, 2012

The relative ease of electronic delivery allows bullies to say mean things about others instantly and oftentimes, anonymously.  One may think that vicious comments communicated via a text message or e-mail is of little significance, but the effects of cyber-bullying are very damaging, especially to teenagers.  A recent New York case noted:

With changes in technology, the Internet has become the venue where widespread hurtful bullying is inflicted by and on young people. See Jan Hoffman, As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-up, N.Y. Times, Dec. 5, 2010, at A1 (examining the widespread nature of bullying on the Internet and difficulties schools have in stopping it); Schwartz, supra (discussing the suicides of three teens as a result of online bullying).

T.K. v. New York City Dept. of Educ., 779 F.Supp.2d 289, 299 (E.D.N.Y.,2011)

According to an article from The Daily News Journal, forty-three percent of teenagers are cyber-bullied per year.  Many teenagers experience negative effects from these statements, including depression and low self-esteem.  2011 WLNR 24052782.  As noted above, suicide is an extreme, but unfortunately not uncommon, consequence of cyber-bullying.  In September 2010, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, committed suicide after his roommate spied on him and another man with a webcam.  Other well-known cases that resulted in suicide include Megan Meier and Phoebe Prince.


50-State Survey: Legislatures are starting to pay more attention to this issue.  Forty-eight states have anti-bullying laws and about thirty-eight of those have some mention of electronic harassment.  Eleven states specifically mention cyber-bulling.  Check out the  50-state survey (pdf) from the Cyberbullying Research Center.


Recommended Query for the Common Law: Try the followng terms and connectors / advanced query on Westlaw or WestlawNext:

adv: (bully! /s internet cyber computer electronic text-message! cell-phone “social media”) cyber-bully!

We ran this search in all state and federal jurisdictions on WestlawNext:

Much of the new code falls under the category of  “anti-harassment.”  To broaden this query, add harass!:

adv: (bully! harasss! /s internet cyber computer electronic text-message! cell-phone “social media”) cyber-bully!

We also narrowed the search to Causes of Action (COA) and found no results.  So, we targeted headnotes in the case law:

HE((bully! /s internet cyber computer electronic text-message! cell-phone “social media”) cyber-bully!)

As it turns out, there’s just one case:

Insofar as the Plaintiff’s counsel suggestion that the posts constitute cyberbullying, the Courts of New York do not recognize cyber or internet bullying as a cognizable tort action. A review of the case law in this jurisdiction has disclosed no case precedent which recognized cyber bullying as a cognizable tort action.

Finkel v. Dauber, 29 Misc.3d 325, 330, 906 N.Y.S.2d 697, 702-03 (N.Y.Sup.,2010)