Cyber bullying is, in the simplest terms possible, communication of a harmful and repeated nature by an individual against another made possible through web-based avenues (Fousiani, Dimitropoulou, Michaelides, & Van Petegem, 2016). Research on the phenomenon indicates that as a social problem, cyberbullying follows the same demographic pathways as traditional bullying. In other words, it manifests primarily as discrimination along the lines of race, gender, physical attributes like weight, and other elements that constitute—in the eyes of the majority—a sense of social or cultural otherness (Fousiani et a., 2016). In that respect, the demographics that are susceptible to traditional bullying constitute the at-risk population for cyber bullying.
With the post-millennial generations being termed as digital natives, cyber bullying as a problem has, in the recent years, manifest in very young demographics—including children in elementary school—because of their conversance with digital appliances and the internet. To that effect, cyber bullying is a problem across a very broad generational spectrum; the entire world demographic aged 40 and below qualifies as a high-risk demographic for the problem. Even so, statistics in the United States, and the state of California to be specific, indicate that younger populations in school, that is, college students and younger, comprise the cohort most bedevilled by this issue. According to a 2015 survey of California by kidsdata.org, one in every five students in grades 7 upwards as well as those in non-traditional programs have been cyber bullied (Student bullying, 2018).
It is estimated that around 30% of school-going youth in the United States are bullied in general and around 20% of them are cyber-bullied (Student bullying, 2018). Cyber bullying is reported to be higher in girls than boys across all the socio-cultural/economic demarcations, that is, race/ethnicity/national origin, religion, and sexual orientation. Children from the LGBTQ community as well as those with disabilities stand a much higher risk of being bullies on various web-based platforms according to kidsdata.org (Student bullying, 2018).
Cyber bullying, as is the case with bullying, is a serious national and global problem. In the United States, there is overwhelming evidence connecting cyber bullying directly to depression and anxiety disorders, low academic achievement, substance abuse in adulthood, physical-psychological health issues like bulimia, and even suicide (Student bullying, 2018; Laer, 2014). Studies indicate that youth who bully others on social media stand a higher risk of (or are already) battling depression and are likely to commit suicide or engage in delinquent behavior (Student bullying, 2018). It comes as no surprise, therefore, that over the past ten years during which social media has grown to dictate the 21st century socio-cultural landscape, cyber-bullying and the problems has risen (Bannink, Broeren, van deLooij, de Wart, & Raat, 2014). Overall, the facts and statistics above reveal that cyber bullying is a national problem and that the state of California needs to take more action and refine its policy framework with specific regard to the issue.
Cyber bullying, though currently being address, it is need of greater attention and policy focus. Attention paid to bullying policy across the United States in general California to be specific reveals a robust legal framework to combat the issue. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) enacted in 2015 address bullying under the overarching mandate of the No Child Left Behind policy (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2018). In California, as is the case with most states, there is no antiharassment law specific to cyber-bullying. Even so, the California Education Codes 200 to 234, codes 32260 to 32283, and codes 48900 to 48900.9 all address the issue of bullying and, in that regard, prompt schools to cover cyber bullying accordingly (California anti-bullying, 2018).
As indicate above, there are currently no specific laws targeting cyber bullying. However, there are several safeguards who umbrella functions cover the issue as explained below:
School-based bullying frameworks. All schools that receive federal funding are bound by state law to address and report discrimination on all matters on bullying (California anti-bullying, 2018). The success rate of these school-based interventions, as is the case will all other umbrella policies, cannot be accurately indexed. There is evidence to suggest that there is need for a more precise cyber bullying-specific framework of policy actions to adequately target the matter. For instance, race-based bullying and cyber bullying was reported to be twice as high in African American children. In the same vein, roughly 50% of all students in the LGBTQ community reported bullying on the basis of their sexual orientation (Student bullying, 2018). Even though it is not possible to quote statistic on the exact extent to which school-based interventions in California are underperforming, it is evident from the above fact that they are not working up to par.
Critical protections under the ESCA. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state of California has established federally standardized critical protections for disadvantaged and high-needs students in the United States (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2018). The statute does not actively bar cyber bullying but it minimize the bases upon which the act can be perpetrated, hence limiting the susceptibility of students in high-risk populations. The provisions of the ESSA for bullying protection are, as in the case above, quite narrow and limited to the realm of education. By and large, it is justified to argue that the ESSA actively protects children against cyber bullying only in the context of school and when the problem manifests around matters of learning such as educational performance. Holfeld and Grabe (2012) posit that since students are offline during most of the time they spent at school, it is much harder for policymakers to institute cyber bullying laws within a school framework. In light of these fact, it is justified to say that the ESSA is also doing far less than what is needed to effectively combat cyber bullying.
Evidence and place-based interventions. The state of California, in line with the ESSA, is currently establishing evidence-based and place-based interventions in conjunction with leaders in local social policy and education. It is these steps that have incubated and birthed ideas like Promise Neighborhoods which function to improve the social wellbeing of demographics protected under the ESSA. Notably, improving environments undermines the potency of social spaces as anchors for cyber bullies (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2018). Evidence-based interventions generally have a community focus. In that respect, they are focussed on re-constructing the socio-economic environment from which victims originate. In so doing, they fortify the children against the functionality of their backgrounds as a basis upon which they may be bullied. However, it takes little effort to see that the cradle-to-career solutions, grants, and increasing the capacity of eligible entities (such as Indian tribes) does not directly target cyber bullying in particular or even bullying in general (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2018).
An analysis of the three intervention examined casts in strong light the fact that California and the United States in general lacks robust policy for bullying, let alone cyber bullying. Admittedly, there is a very impressive network of policies and policy action against social discrimination in schools. It holds right to posit that schools have been approached as the principle social institutions and anti-discriminatory policy developed around them. The establishment of laws against discrimination in schools very generally addresses the subject of bullying and, by association, the issue of cyber bullying (California anti-bullying, 2018). Understandably, the total absence of a focussed and comprehensive anti-cyber bullying law continues to show in the failure of the existing safeguards, since the numbers of children who are suffering under the problem continue to ran high.
It is important to point out in concluding this sub section that there are no designated institutions against cyber bullying in California. The California Department of Education is charged with carrying out these functions and, on its webpage, has a provision “Bullying and Hate-Motivated Behavior Prevention” (California anti-bullying, 2018). This fact further underscores the absence of a designated institution, justifying existing views by researchers such as Barlett & Coyne (2014) who state that the exact nature of cyber bullying as a problem is not understood, leaving to the underestimation of the problem. As existing social institutions like the police and school departments continue to handle a problem for which they are not accurately configured, emerging issues in cyber bullying are prompting further research leading to more unrest in the realm of policymaking. Hence, it is necessary to examine the new policies on bullying in California and the United States in general to see their impact on bullying.
The latest development in California’s anti-bullying legislation framework is Seth’s Law. Enacted in 2012, the policy is not a stand-alone law but is, instead, a legislative framework to strengthen existing anti-bullying codes. It is named after Seth Walsh, a gay student from Tehachapi, California who, having endured anti-gay bullying since the 6th grade, finally took his life at the age of 13 in 2010 (New tools, 2018). Various news sources indicate that a significant proportion of the bullying that Seth endured came from online platforms. Correspondingly, the primary demographic of focus for the formulation of Seth Law comprises students from the LGBTQ community (New tools, 2018). Nonetheless, individuals who are at risk of bullying due to their race or disability are well covered under Seth’s Law.
The law, as stated under the Education Code Section 234.b1(b)(1), states that ““If school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, he or she shall take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so” (New tools, n.d.). The policy requires school districts to do the following:
It is important to first point out that the law is very much justified in the wake of all the discrepancies that anti-bullying policies in California have displayed over the past decades. By effectively sealing some of the holes on school district code on bullying, Seth’s Law is evidently tightening the grip of the law around bullying in schools. Ironically, it is in this focus of the law that its inherent weaknesses lie; Seth’s Law does not do anything new and, worse still, fails to address cyber-bullying as a unique and grossly under-addressed domain of harassment both in and out of schools.
Having ascertained the limits of Seth’s Law—and keeping in mind that it is not entirely a new policy but a reparation framework for the shortcomings of extant anti-bullying codes—it is completely justified to posit that the demerits of the statute are virtually the same as those outlined in the earlier parts of this paper. To reiterate these facts, the policy fails to directly and concisely address cyber-bullying. Worse still, it does little, if nothing at all, to examine the element of cyber-bullying outside the province of the school administration (New tools, 2018). With scholars such as Cassidy, Brown, and Jackson (2012) indicating parents’ concerns for cyber-bullying outside of school, it is completely justified to argue that Seth’s Law will have a negligible impact in curbing the harassment of children online. If the statistics from the 2014-2015 kidsdata survey are anything to go by, the policy is failing to address the matter and will probably continue to do so (Student bullying, 2018).
The correct advocacy strategy must have the following elements:
The following aims will direct action within the advocacy framework being proposed:
It important to start this section with emphasis on the fact that the advocacy strategy in focus is, in effect, a social policy. Hence, in order to achieve the three cardinal objectives above, four primary needs, all within social policy formulation, must be met. These are outlined below:
Fiscal support. The undertaking of this advocacy strategy is both time and capital-intensive. Every single one of the steps explained below requires funding. Hence, it is necessary for the advocates to have fiscal support. It is postulated that the money can come from donations and grants by charitable and affiliate organizations.
Research and design. In order to present an air-tight presentation without any flaws, it is necessary to engage in research on why the strategy being proposed is justified. In the wake of this research, the findings must be compiled and presented as a logic plan. The projected plan for this advocacy strategy is as follows:
Investments What to do Whom to reach Short-term results Mid-term results Long-term results
Inadequacies in the existing anti-bullying policy framework in the state of California
Collaborative partnerships with non-school community entities such as clubs in order to establish anti-cyber bullying knowledge and awareness outside of the school environment.
School administrations to enforce ESSA mandate.
Expertise on policy enforcement under the ESSA. Collaborate with schools
Collaborate with community clubs
Develop outreach and awareness programs within affected cohorts
Devise means for parent engagement e.g. through community meetings. School districts
Communities; both general demographics and ethnic/racial or gender/disabled groups
Ultimately, individual children via smaller social units especially families and peer groups Development of working partnerships between the parties mentioned in the preceding sections.
Better knowledge of community-level needs for the entrenchment of the proposed policy
Understanding of how the policy works within ESSA and education code parameters. Improved community and state engagement on cyber-bullying
Enhanced school and community functioning on cyber-bullying Established and fully functional mechanisms for monitoring, addressing, and preventing cyber-bullying.
Improved school and community management of cyber-bullying.
Appraisal from and the approval of institutions catering to the target demographic. Schools and other institutions that generally handle the population in focus—everyone under the age of 18—should examine the plan and approve it in order for it to be forwarded. The provisions of the strategy must mirror the desire and aims of the institutions’ anti-bullying efforts and policies.
A platform for presentation and engagement with policy-makers. A meeting or forum will be set up whereby the top policy-makers for the state will engage the advocates on any matters of the policy that may be unclear from scope of coverage, costs of implementation, to compliance issues.
To sum everything up, the state of California is in intensive need of an exhaustive policy specifically targeting cyber bullying. Attention paid to literature on the matter indicates that neither long-standing nor newly developed policies are enough to fix the problem. Existing anti-bullying laws are too general and are almost entirely focused on the school setting, which renders them ineffective in handling cyber-bullying. Even Seth’s Law, the latest significant development in the anti-harassment laws, is not adequate for the challenges currently being experienced, and statistics indicate that the policy is failing in both cyber and traditional bullying. Hence, the advocacy strategy proposed above comes in to fill in the gaps and pay due attention to cyber-bullying. It is vital to note in conclusion that the proposition above is time, human resource, and financially intensive and must be granted the attention and time it requires because its profundity mirrors the scope of the hurdle it is designed for.
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