How the law is reaching the Cyberbully's playground
DAYTON, Ohio (WRGT) -- Imagine a six-figure lawsuit with the click of a button. It's happened before, and it can happen again. For years cyberbullies have roamed the inter-web, hurling hate across all platforms, but it appears the law is catching up.
You have surely felt it, and students certainly have on social media.
"People sharing pictures of other people," one local student Azia Shepherd answered, “He said, she said," another student Kendall Simmons added, “Trying to make a joke out of them," finished Landre’a Cannon.
Social media is becoming a bully's new playground. It is an open forum for people to attack while hidden behind a keyboard with no view of consequences.
"Yeah I don't think they know it's that serious," Shepherd said.
However, recently, crucial bullying cases are beginning to unfold that could change the landscape.
"Hopefully this case will begin to establish some sort of skeleton, or some sort of framework for future cases that come about," Cyberspace attorney Andrew Rossow said.
Rossow is talking about the case of Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald. He suffers from epilepsy, and received a nasty tweet in December.
"I hope he has a seizure, I just sent him this image I hope he sees it," Rossow said describing the image in the tweet.
The message read, “You deserve a seizure for your posts,” and had a strobing GIF image behind it. Eichenwald claims the strobing caused him to go into seizure. On Twitter, he says the symptoms are still uncontrolled.
"The line to distinguish harmful activity verse just something that is offensive, I think this case is starting to put that line somewhere," Rossow said.
The suspect, 29-year-old John Rayne Rivello, of Salisbury, Maryland, faces federal charges of cyber stalking, and is being charged in Texas for assault with a deadly weapon. A Texas grand jury ruled the sent image a weapon. When FOX45 asked three local students if they thought a social media post could be considered a weapon, nearly all three said, “Yes,” with one student saying, “Yes, and no.”
"It is a difficult case because no one case is really the same,” Rossow said of comparing cases in court, “It may have the same kind of structure and the set up, but the facts are always going to be a little bit different."
The variations are making cyberbullying cases hard to pursue without clear intent, and it's not just happening to young people.
"Is this something you think that will go away when you get older?” I asked Landre’a Cannon, “Maybe when they get older it will go away," Cannon answered.
It doesn't, a judge in North Carolina ordered a woman to pay $500,000 for libel. She wrote a Facebook post insinuating a mother had killed her own son, and she didn't.
“You look at the intended recipient, and how this platform was used,” Rossow remarked.
In court, cyberbullying cases are compared to old statutes that are generally intended for face to face bullying.
“Normally was that what they are designed for? No,” Rossow said.
"The courts are still trying to catch up to the new technology," Attorney Zachary Heck said.
Heck said another huge problem is identifying who hit send. Without definitive proof, he said it's difficult for courts at all levels to prosecute someone, but they are still trying to get ahead of the speed of thumb, and in front of the eyes behind the screen.
"You don't have people in front of you judging you for what you say, you can just say it," Shepherd said.
It appears those days are numbered.