Although bullying is nothing new, the digital age has given rise to a new breed of bullying, known as cyber-bullying.
Instant communication methods have led to increasingly severe consequences for those preyed upon. Websites and social networking pages are easily accessible forums for groups or individuals to torment their victims. The anonymous aspect of these forums and the lack of face to face contact makes it easier for an offender to send abusive messages to their victims without being exposed to reactions or risking someone else overhearing the abuse. It is not only words which are being used to bully, photographs and videos can now be easily and discreetly taken, edited and uploaded to the internet and circulated across global jurisdictions in a matter of minutes, without the victim even being aware of the photo or video's existence. It is very difficult to contain the multiplication of the photographs, and their permanent removal from cyber-space is almost impossible.
Methods of communication are constantly evolving and people are finding more inventive ways to bully one another. By way of an example, a phone application has recently been released which will rate how ugly a person is by providing a rating out of 10 and offering an insult to further elaborate such as "you are so ugly you could make a glass eye cry". While some people may laugh this off, such an application could have serious implications for our children growing up in an image obsessed, technology driven world.
Our society's growing dependence on technology has led many to question whether our laws have been able to keep up with evolving methods of this type of offending. As a result, in October 2010, the Law Commission undertook a study that assessed the effectiveness of criminal and civil remedies in the digital media environment. The year-long study identified the existence of significant potential harm, particularly for young people whose lives continue to become entrenched in social media.
It also noted that the current processes were too cumbersome and financially demanding for many victims of cyber-bullying to pursue a prosecution or civil remedy. As a result of the study the Law Commission made the following proposals:
- Ensuring all provisions imposing controls on communication are expressed widely enough to cover all forms of communication in the digital environment, by reviewing and amending current statutes,
- Creation of a new offence that makes the malicious impersonation of another person a criminal offence,
- Creation of a new offence for inciting or encouraging a person to commit suicide, and
- Creation of a new offence that makes it illegal to publish intimate photographs of a person without their informed consent.
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