As regular readers know, the new issue of the Complete Lawyer is dedicated to bullying by and of lawyers with my own confessional of a little workplace bullying here.
Today, L.A. Times Staff Writers Scott Glover and P.J. Huffstutter report that an L.A. Grand Jury has issued subpoenas in the cyber-bullying case that led to the suicide of a 13-year old girl. As that article explains:
A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has begun issuing subpoenas in the case of a Missouri teenager who hanged herself after being rejected by the person she thought was a 16-year-old boy she met on MySpace, sources told The Times.
The case set off a national furor when it was revealed that the "boyfriend" was really a neighbor who was the mother of one of the girl's former friends.
Local and federal authorities in Missouri . . . said they were unable to find a statute under which to pursue a criminal case.
Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, however, are exploring the possibility of charging Drew with defrauding the MySpace social networking website by allegedly creating the false account, according to the sources, who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The sources said prosecutors are looking at federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes as they consider the case. Prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction because MySpace is headquartered in Beverly Hills, the sources said.
The Conditions that Give Rise to Bullying
Among other things, bullying is a "contentious tactic" deployed to get someone else to do something you want them to do. (see Conflict Map here)
As a mediator, I can tell you that lawyers on both sides of litigation -- and their clients -- often report being "bullied" by the other side. This is not surprising. We're trained to use power to get what we want, not to seek and obtain cooperation.
In this shocking case of cyber-bullying, the motive was not behaivor change but revenge. The mother who posed as the cyber-boyfriend who first woo'ed and then brutally rejected the 13-year old suicide victim -- was allegedly "punishing" her own daughter's former friend for terminating that friendship.
So what is it about the internet that makes it such a fertile ground for bullying?
The social scientists say that bullying -- the deliberate and repeated abuse of power – is most likely to occur in relatively stable social groups with a clear hierarchy and low supervision.
Because hierarchy – a system that ranks people one above the other -- makes low-status individuals visible and easy to get at. It also makes them less likely to receive protection by their peers.
Though the internet itself is not necessarily hierarchical -- those so often targeted on it are usually deeply enmeshed in hierarchical sub-cultures such as schools. More importantly, social networking sites make low-status individuals such as children and teenagers visible and easy to get at. Finally, the inteernet, due to its anonymity, makes those low-status individuals less likely to receive protection by their peers.
Resources for Identifying and Combatting Bullying
For a good online resource for ways to combat "virtual" bullying, see Cyberbullying here. See also the Anti-Bullying Alliance here ; Helping Kids Deal with Bullies here; the American Psychological Association Bullying Sheet; and, the Workplace Bullying Institute.