A new pact for discouraging cyber-bullying and predatory behavior on social networks has been signed by seventeen social networking sites that have a presence in Europe, including MySpace, Bebo, Dailymotion, YouTube, and Habbo Hotel, reports Reuters. The European Commission is hoping such widespread adoption of the pact will make the Internet a safer place for children. The announcement comes on the heels of MySpace revealing its successful blocking of 90,000 registered sex offenders, some of which were later found on Facebook. And Facebook appears to be missing from this new EU pact as well, though both MySpace and Facebook have their own initiatives with state and federal authorities in the United States for the protection of their users.
Some of the concessions participating networks can make as part of the pact include auto private profiles for users under the age of 18, making them not searchable on the networks or the search engines, as well as more reporting options for users that feel others are acting maliciously in some way.
Cyber-bullying and the overall influence of social networks has been a major concern in EU countries for several years now, with many proposals coming forth asking for more regulation of social networking sites after a string of copycat behavior including suicide. It was in fact the suicide of a teen in the U.S. that spurred legal action in anti-cyber-bully laws in recent months. Sadly such grim circumstances seem to be the exception to the rule that brings socially-related issues to the forefront of online media.
But for cyber-bullying in particular, more work may need to be done in the courtroom before we have a clear picture on what actually consists of cyber-bullying. It can be a terribly subjective term, especially when you’re talking about the enhancement of user-generated reporting systems that can render another user devoid of online social networking access. Just as the “report” option on AIM was often used as a retaliation technique that eventually led to full blockage from the service, the reporting option on social networks can be abused as well.
It’s worth the risk in order to have improved safety measures on social networking, but a clearer definition of cyber-bullying may need to be devised. Katherine Evans found herself debating the meaning of cyber-bullying when she was suspended in her senior year of high school for criticizing her English teacher on Facebook, according to The New York Times. After being blown off by her English teacher, Evans wrote a message on Facebook that reads as follows: “To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred.”
Evans then sued her former principal after he placed Evans on a three-day suspension, citing her use of the word “hatred” constituted as cyber-bullying. When it comes to the school system, there is also a different set of rules that are applied to social networking norms and acceptable behavior. Students and teachers are often held to a different standard specifically when it comes to cyber-bullying, making future court cases that much more difficult to resolve for situations akin to Evans’.