Cyberbullying – The Virtual Playground and the First Amendment
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Bullying: From Personal Space to Cyberspace
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As technology advances, so too does the method of communication and level of interaction between individuals. In early America, the time it took to send and receive messages depended on how fast the postman’s horse could gallop. Today, people send messages instantaneously to each other across the globe. Although this technological advancement has provided us with significant advantages, it has also created a slew of new problems, particularly with regard to bullying. The traditional image of the stereotypical bully is the deviant child on the playground who inflicts physical harm on another. Today, however, "physical separation of the bully and the victim is no longer a limitation in the frequency, scope, and depth of harm experienced and doled out."

In order to understand the magnitude of the problems that result from cyberbullying, one must first understand what exactly this term means. Although a generally accepted definition has yet to be developed, cyberbullying can be generally defined as a type of harm that is inflicted through the medium of electronic text that is intentional and repetitive.

Crucial to the notion of cyberbullying is the presence of a power imbalance between the aggressor and the victim; however, this imbalance differs from the power structure usually present in situations involving traditional forms of bullying. For example, physical bullying may involve two people, one of whom is significantly larger in size or greater in strength than the other. Social exclusion usually results from a power imbalance between an individual who is widely viewed as being more popular or mentally capable than another. With cyberbullying, however, the power imbalance seems to depend on a factor that is sometimes present in both the bully and the victim—the factor of anonymity.

Research indicates that the harm that results from cyberbullying may actually be greater than the harm caused by traditional bullying because the cyberbully is often able to keep his or her identity anonymous. According to Gabriel Tarde’s law of insertion, "new technologies will be applied to augment traditional activities and behaviors. Certain characteristics inherent in these technologies increase the likelihood that they will be exploited for deviant purposes." The main characteristics of cyberspace that encourage cyberbullying are the anonymity of the bully, the lack of supervision in cyberspace, and the ease with which the bully can contact the victim, regardless of the time-space distance between the two.

Next, let’s look at how the First Amendment to the United States Constitution relates to the topic of cyberbullying.