The Rutland Group

Assembly bill would punish those who bully online

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—State lawmakers trying to keep up with evolving trends in online bullying passed a bill Monday that would give schools broader authority to punish students who harass their classmates on social networking sites.
AB1732 would allow schools to suspend or expel students who create online profiles impersonating classmates or set up “burn pages” filled with material intended to harm others. The bill passed the Assembly 58-0 and moves to the Senate.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said California’s original cyberbullying laws were written in 2006, before social networking had become an integral part of teen life. She sponsored successful legislation last year targeting bullying on social networking sites, including Facebook, but the bill failed to target forms of online bullying that have proliferated only recently.

“People today are bullying in a very different way,” Campos said in an interview after the vote. “I want to make sure that there are no loopholes.”

The phenomenon of “burn pages” is linked to the 2004 cult film “Mean Girls,” which depicts students writing hurtful comments about their classmates in a journal called a “burn book.”

Online bullying has played a role in several widely publicized teen suicides, prompting some to call the problem an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently added a question about cyberbullying to its biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

In comments on the Assembly floor, Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, framed Internet bullying as an issue of life or death.
“Words kill, and we’ve seen examples of that,” he said.

The topic has gained renewed attention this year with the release of the documentary film “Bully.” The Motion Picture Association of America lowered the rating for the film from R to PG-13 last week, following widespread concern that the R rating would restrict kids under age 17 from seeing the movie without an accompanying adult.

Campos praised the film and said she will sponsor a screening in her district.

She plans to continue updating the list of bullying offenses for which a student can be suspended or expelled, but acknowledged that teens were likely to stay a step or two ahead of lawmakers as they devised new ways to torment each other on social networking sites.

“Because young people use it more than adults, sometimes we don’t get current information as quick as we should,” she said.