What to do if you are a victim of cyberbullying

What to do if you are a victim of cyberbullying

What does the law say? Who should you contact? How to defend yourself? What must be saved? A collection of practical information useful for victims, families and schools

(photo: Unsplash) "Any form of pressure, aggression, harassment, blackmail, insult, denigration, defamation, identity theft, alteration, acquisition illicit, manipulation, illicit treatment of personal data to the detriment of minors, carried out electronically ". According to paragraph 2 of article 1 of law number 71 of 29 May 2017, this is the current definition of cyberbullying for Italy. But what to do, in practice, when you end up being a victim, or in some way a witness, of a crime of cyberbullying (whose national day in Italy for awareness is 7 February)?

The answer short it would depend, because the variety of cases and situations is such that it does not allow to have a single possible path. Nicole Monte, lawyer of new technologies of the Milanese law firm 42LF and specialized in digital crimes, media policy, privacy and data processing, has put in order and identified some general guidelines.

All the things that they can be done

"The law on cyberbullying gives legal instruments to a series of subjects, from family to school to associations", explains Monte: "The main novelty is the possibility of asking the provider to block the contents which represent cyberbullying. And in addition, if the provider does not delete within 24 hours of the request, you can appeal to the Guarantor for the protection of personal data, which has also created a preferential channel dedicated to reporting and complaints regarding cyberbullying " .

Removing content is not the only way, however, nor is it always the best. Among the possibilities there is also that of filing a complaint, or asking the commissioner for a warning. Simplifying, when a warning is requested from the victim or the family, the minor-bully is summoned for a sort of "lecture". A provision is then issued by the authority, in which priority is given to the educational purpose: in fact, specific indications are provided on the type of conduct implemented, stigmatizing the negative value of certain behaviors and the negative effects produced on the victim.

However, it is possible to apply for it only if a series of conditions are met: the minor who has committed the act of cyberbullying must be between 14 and 18 years old (if he is younger he is neither imputable nor punishable, because he is considered too young and immature) and must not have been filed a complaint. If you proceed along this path, the bully can be summoned by the commissioner, and in this case his family is also involved.

"The right choice depends on the framing of the case", continues Monte: "If if you are the victim of a baby gang it is difficult for the warning route to be effective, and often the interested parties do not even go to the commissioner, while in other contexts the call may be enough on its own to stop the cyberbullying actions “. In short, sometimes the "scare" tactic can give good results, others not.

Just because finding your way around can be complicated, another possibility that can prove very useful is to ask for a hand. Law enforcement agencies such as Carabinieri, Police and Postal Police, associations, anti-violence centers, branches managed by the bar association, institutions, help lines, listening centers: the existing channels are numerous, with competent people available to give advice .

"Just as problems related to cyberbullying can arise from the network, the network can also be the answer: an online search allows you to find who can help, even if sometimes these entities are a bit hidden and not easy to find. Listening to the advice of the experts can also be useful because psychological dynamics often take over that complicate everything ”, adds Monte. "For example, sometimes it happens that people ask in a hurry to obscure the contents, only to realize that the evidence of the crime they are victim to have been destroyed. Or you face the situation by letting yourself be emotionally charged, without even realizing when the unpleasant episodes that happen online are really leading to cyberbullying ".

The role of the family

trafficking in minors, parents (or guardians in general) play an important role in the management of cyberbullying cases. The law, in particular, frames the family not only in the role of protecting the interests of the minor with its support action, but also as a possible victim of cyberbullying itself. It is written, in fact, that we speak of cyberbullying even in the case in which online contents are disseminated "concerning one or more members of the minor's family, whose intentional and predominant purpose is to isolate a minor or a group of minors by placing a serious abuse, a harmful attack, or their ridicule is taking place ".

Naturally all the possible actions to be taken, from the request for blackout to that of a warning, from the appeal to the Guarantor to the complaint, can be done both by the victim and by the parents.

The role of the school

To date, the regulatory framework attributes a series of responsibilities, including operational ones, to those who work in the school world, starting from by the head teacher. To the extent that the manager is aware of cyberbullying incidents, he must necessarily report them to the family. All this "except for a more serious crime": if it is something more serious than cyberbullying (such as an episode of child pornography), the manager is obliged to proceed with a complaint, as anyone should do aware of a serious crime.

"The heart of the law against cyberbullying with regard to schools is that an obligation to train is also created: both young people and their families are in fact promoted and the financing of prevention projects ”, explains Monte.

In addition to the head teacher, the teaching staff is naturally also involved. The teachers appoint their own internal contact person who has the task of coordinating the initiatives to combat and prevent cyberbullying. And in addition to being trained, they are required to report everything wrong with the classroom to the manager, including what concerns cyberbullying. A choice that does not derive from the desire to burden teachers with further burdens and responsibilities, but which recognizes the centrality of their role in contrasting and preventing.

"It should not be forgotten, then, that the awareness of families with regard to the behavior of cyberbullies - or bullies in general - it often begins when there is a disciplinary measure: the note, the suspension, the low vote in conduct, the rejection “, clarifies Monte. In short, the school also plays a role in creating awareness of cyberbullying episodes within the bully's own family.

The role of the authorities and the state

In addition to the aforementioned Guarantor and to the aforementioned commissioner, in the initiatives to be carried out against cyberbullying, the introduction of a technical table with representatives of the Ministry of Education, associations and other entities is also envisaged. So far, the technical table has met three times, the last of which in March 2020: on that occasion it was decided, for example, to promote law enforcement actions, to improve the common database at national level.

“If in recent years the cases of cyberbullying that have emerged have increased considerably, it is not because the phenomenon has worsened, but awareness on these issues has increased”, explains Monte. "Knowing what tools exist, ie what can be done, allows the phenomenon to emerge. Having a law on cyberbullying is a good thing to the extent that even among journalists, lawyers and other professions in which there is a vocation for the social it is possible to raise the level of awareness and to have their role recognized by the different subjects involved ".

Data to be saved and stored

In theory, for all digital contents that have to do with cyberbullying episodes, a forensic acquisition of the content, in order to make it digitally guaranteed. An action that can be done with many providers. In the practice of jurisprudence, however, even a screenshot and its print could be fine, especially if these contents are then reinforced by testimonies and other means of proof. Even if they are by their nature easier to counterfeit, in some cases they are still accepted.

Attention however to the operations of removal and obscuration: if in the confusion and in the initial rush you are asked to remove the contents from the web, a that point may be impossible for both forensic capture and a trivial screenshot. "Since many platforms are very quick to remove content because they give a lot of importance to the theme, it is better to save what you need first, so as not to delete the tests yourself", concludes Monte.

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