A story about an anti-bullying lawsuit involving Facebook was just mentioned on Digital Trends. A woman in the UK, who has been subject to various accounts of cyber-bullying (of course this is all “alleged”) has filed a lawsuit compelling Facebook to give up the identities of those cyber-bullies in question. Problem is if Facebook caves in, what will this do for our privacy laws? It’s an intriguing situation, should a precedent of this nature be set.
The title of this post is “Brains vs Brawn” but could have easily been titled, “how things change technologically but moral dilemmas don’t change at all”. Let’s take the core issue – cyber-bullying. Is it any different than “playground” bullying say 25 years ago? Well yes and no. The intent of bullies is to instill fear into their victims. Long ago it used to be more physical than psychological. Those who engage in cyber-bullying have the same mentality of that ruthless school bully – an intent to injure whether it be physical or psychological damage. Internet exchanges are more psychological affairs than physical, for obvious reasons. A big difference is that the internet user is “cloaked”, he or she can have many security layers to protect identification.
The internet “cloak” can bring out the worst in people which includes trolling. It is much more difficult to harass a person, in person, than it is to verbally abuse someone over the internet. Most things would go unsaid in a realistic, real life situation. Bullying over the net is more like psychological warfare and many more people, with ill-intent, can get in on the badgering. It has the potential to become a cyber-mob situation. One could argue that this has a lot more negative ramifications than the simple occurrence of a playground incident. The abuse can continue without end and has high potential to expand. It is also much more difficult to monitor and/or catch.
So here we have this case where privacy laws will be able to protect cyber-bullies and we ask what Facebook should do about this. On the playground, you either fight or flee. Bullies often need to be confronted. But what to do with cyber-bullying. Confrontation is virtually impossible at this point. Facebook really has no legal obligation to provide the names of those identified as cyber-bullies. Yet there is a need to stop this kind of abuse.
As we read further in the news snippet, it appears that the UK will be trying to implement a monitoring system to dissuade potential bullies from taking to malevolent action. It’s quite an undertaking. But what does this do for internet law-abiding citizens? Should a few bad apples ruin the bunch? This doesn’t seem like the answer either.
Until some reasonable monitoring system comes into play, it is clear what most be done by the victims of cyber-bullying: stay away from the places where this might happen. Change your address on Facebook and get a fresh start. Don’t take the bait. This is the internet after all. There are a lot of baiters.
Other other hand, if you are the victim of relentless cyber-stalking, maybe it’s time to get a lawyer and file a lawsuit. But don’t expect Facebook to support you to any extent. They are running a business and service after all and it is your choice to engage in their business or not.