In the latest bullying tragedy, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12 year-old from Florida, leapt to her death from a cement silo after a barrage of relentless cyberbullying from girls her age. Although the girl deleted her Facebook page, the bulk of the messages were sent from a service called Kik, which allows users to establish anonymous accounts that go directly to their “friends’” cellphones via text.
At my school we had an incident of cyberbullying over Kik. I tried to deal directly with the company to find out who had sent the message, but they protect their clients anonymity unless you have a subpoena from a judge. In order to get a subpoena from a judge, you have to have a police report. In order to have a police report, a crime has to have been committed. In this particular case, in which an anonymous “friend” told this girl, “You should go ahead and kill yourself,” this is not, under Texas law, considered a threat, and is therefore not illegal. The policeman who helped me with this case also informed me that since Kik headquarters are in Canada, they really don’t have to respond to subpoenas that originate in the United States. So congratulations, Kik founders, you have created the perfect vehicle for cyberbullies to torment their victims with very little chance of getting caught!
For more information on the constantly morphing online world of teenagers, please see this article from the NY Times. And don’t be afraid to have serious, digging talks with your teens about their online worlds. It’s more important than you know.