State bill outlaws 'cyber-bullying'

SUN VALLEY, Calif. Gossip is an age-old problem at middle schools and high schools everywhere. But with the popularity of electronic devices like cell phones and computers and pagers, some believe that gossip has grown potentially harmful, even dangerous. Now a local lawmaker is proposing a new law that would make it illegal to "cyber-bully."

Cell phones, pagers, BlackBerry devices and computers all make the task of communicating so much faster and easier. However, that same technology in the wrong hands can be destructive.

"To the point where kids just start doing drugs or just kill themselves," said student Edward Esparza. "That's it. It just gets out of hand sometimes."

Mean-spirited name-calling and reputation-bashing can travel faster with texting, instant-messaging and social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and perhaps become more damaging than the typical teenage bullying of years past.

It's why one local assemblyman is proposing a bill that would put a stop to "cyber-bullying."

"We need to protect our children from being bullied at school," said California State Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). "And with the advent of new technologies -- the cell phone, pager and Blackberrys -- we're seeing increasing instances of children getting harassing messages through electronic means. What this bill does is it stops that and allows school districts to take action against people that do that."

The bill called AB 86 allows school officials to suspend or expel students caught cyber-bullying during school hours or on school grounds.

The problem is so much of the cyber-bullying going on happens off campus, as in the case of a Beverly Hills middle school student who, while at a restaurant with her friends, taped a negative conversation about a fellow 8th-grader and posted it on YouTube.

School officials suspended the student who posted the recording on the Web site, but not the other teens involved in the conversation.

The student's parents have now filed a lawsuit saying the teenager's rights to free speech were violated. Could AB 86 apply to this case?

"If it's going to happen once, it happens on many occasions and some of those happen during school hours or on school grounds," said Lieu. "This bill captures those acts."

And what do students think of the proposed law?

"It can get out of hand, but still, you can't stop a person from talking about somebody else. It's just reality -- it's bound to happen no matter what," said student Lianne Miranda.

Tuesday, the state senate approved AB 86. It now goes back to the assembly, and it could be in the hands of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by the end of September.


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