Just Asking: Cyberbullying in American Samoa

Samoa News has once again received e-mails about cyberbullying on Facebook, seemingly by local high school students from public and private schools.

One of the e-mails said: “This is the third page I’ve encountered on Facebook that is used to attack and bully our high school students. I had written DOE and South Pacific Academy on June 8th about previous pages, whose creators supposedly attended SPA.

“The only reply I received was from SPA reassuring that they will do whatever they can to prevent any bullying on school grounds, and any access to Facebook during school hours.

“Until this day, I haven’t received an email or anything from DOE acknowledging whether they received my email, or acknowledging this cyberbullying problem we have here in American Samoa.

“Can someone please look into it because cyberbullying among our high school students is getting ridiculous and the fact that DOE hasn’t done anything about it (not that I’m aware of) is speaking volumes.”


“You're not going to be able to punish people into being more tolerant”

Just Google the issue, and the amount of information on cyberbullying is tremendous, including reports of people— kids and students— committing suicide because they were the target of the internet or related technologies (text messages, videos, etc.) used to harass, embarrass, or threaten them.

As it stands, American Samoa does not have a law against cyberbullying on the books; nor has Samoa News heard of legislative action currently on the drawing board.

There is no doubt there is cyberbullying going on in American Samoa. Note a case that made its way to the District Court, which Samoa News reported in May this year, where District Court Judge John Ward placed four women on probation in connection with an assault case in Fatu ma Futi which had occurred Thanksgiving, 2011.

According to the news report, the four women, who are all related, were initially charged with felony assault, however it was amended to misdemeanor assault. The government alleged that the women assaulted another woman who was swimming at Fatu ma Futi— because she and one of the defendant’s had exchanged comments on Facebook.

According to the police affidavit, the defendants were swearing at the victim, then one of them went into the ocean and started punching the victim, and then the other co-defendants also jumped in and started punching the victim.

A video of the incident was posted on youtube.com_.

In making his ruling, District Court Judge John Ward ordered the defendants not to make contact with the victim and her family through the phone, or via any social network or email. He sentenced all four women to jail time, which was suspended and they were placed on probation. They were also ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

Judge Ward further suggested to one of the defendants to “maybe delete her Facebook page” in order to keep the peace.

Of note here is that the case made it to the court because there was an assault incident, not because of the Facebook remarks. So how many incidents have happened which have not wound up in court?

How many of the fights happening among our youth are from cyber comments or bullying via social media?

I, myself, became involved in an incident which originated from Facebook comments — which I called cyberbullying — when my children were in elementary school. They were the target of vicious messages on Facebook; and of course, I later found out that my kids retaliated with their own vicious messages, with the messages culminating in an actual fist-a-cuff between all involved, which then drew in the parents.

A sit down between parents, the next day, which included the kids, was an eye opener for the adults. Both sides trotted out copies from their kids’ Facebook pages of what their children had said about, and to each other; and we —the adults in the room—were stunned at the ‘foul mouthed’ and ‘vicious comments’ used by both sides.

How did we resolve it?

I don’t know about the other parents, but I denied my kids access to our home computer for a month, and afterwards constantly lectured them about using it as a friend connection. I took to looking over their shoulders unexpectedly to check on their status when they were online at home — they hated that one. But, all in all, I did not get a repeat of the incident, at least as far as I know, throughout their high school years.

Yesterday, in perusing internet sites, I found there seems to be a basic approach to the issue. Parents, children, students, schools, both private and public must be proactive to prevent, to monitor, to do something about it when it’s happening.

But here’s the problem, as I see it — you have to get the kids to identify that what they are doing is ‘cyberbullying’, because as a student said on his Facebook page (a copy was sent to Samoa News): “…Okayy, like seriously why and how?… cus’ me & --- are laughing at all the shit.”

Is legislation a solution?

According to a USA Today story, “States look to enact cyberbullying laws,” by Yamiche Alcindor, “The trend in legislation is "bringing our laws into the digital age and the 21st century," said New York state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, sponsor of a bill to criminalize cyberbullying.

“Under Klein's proposed law, anyone found guilty of using electronics to stalk or harass someone could face a misdemeanor or felony charge that could carry a prison sentence.

“Forty-eight states have anti-bullying laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The move now is to strengthen those laws and add specific consequences for electronic intimidation and harassment:

•            In Indiana,a proposed bill would give schools more authority to punish students for off-campus activities such as cyberbullying from a computer not owned by the school.

•            In Maine,a proposal would define bullying and cyberbullying, specify responsibilities for reporting incidents of bullying and require schools to adopt a policy to address bullying.

•            In Delaware,meetings are underway to decide how a new cyberbullying policy would regulate off-campus behavior.”

However, according to the article, legal experts say there may be Constitutional problems with this approach.

“…The laws can possibly infringe on free speech, particularly if a student is accused of using a computer that is not on school grounds. Five states — Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Illinois — limit school jurisdiction over cyberbullying behavior to acts that are committed using school-owned or -leased computers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

A final thought on the issue comes from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, based in Arlington, Va., who is reported in the article as saying “the movement in the legislatures and the courts is focusing on the disciplinary system and is shortsighted.

‘You're not going to be able to punish people into being more tolerant,’ he said.”


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