United States

 

 

As communication technology becomes less expensive and more accessible, opportunities for cyber harassment broadens.  Nearly half of Americans under 35 report they have been bullied, harassed, defamed, or threatened online, with women making up 57 percent of those targeted.  Legislation addressing cyber harassment in the Unites States is still patchy.  Although there are a handful of laws at the federal level for cases of cyber-stalking, 62 percent of respondents polled said that cyber harassment laws are not strong enough or are nonexistent. Unlike many other countries who acknowledge cyber harassment as a crime and have installed tough laws to curb the growing problem, the US has taken a more lackadaisical approach despite case after case of suicide in both youth and adult groups. Ironically, cyber harassment crimes occur mostly on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, all of which are based in the United States.  Sixty two percent of a thousand-plus sample group of adults say that they have experienced some form of cyber harassment on Facebook with twenty four percent saying the same for Twitter. The primary argument used by social media and search engine companies allowing the activity to continue is that internet users should have the right to free speech.  However, the line between free speech and unnecessary hateful verbal assault, harassment, and defamation is still confused. Laws have been passed in other countries that make the cyber assault of individuals a criminal offense and those laws have been successful so far in mitigating the problem.  In contrast, in the United States such laws are being met with strong opposition claiming that constitutional rights of free speech are being violated.  These sentiments are further fueled by the concern that if cyber laws are passed, governmental oversight will become more present and dominant in the lives of citizens leading to a surrendering of privacy and control in their lives.  

 

Although social network companies and search engines, like Google, provide avenues for victims of cyber harassment to complain, minimal is done to correct the problem.  It is ironic and disturbing to note that the same US-based internet companies operating in other countries such as in the United Kingdom, accommodate requests by foreign citizens to have damaging online content removed quickly and completely, yet are resistant and uncooperative when it comes to extending the same services and courtesies to citizens in their own country. It is well known that Google has been sued several times by US citizens for refusing to have disparaging content removed from its sites and did so only after a court order.