Student advocate discusses cyberbullying

C.L Lindsay has some simple advice when considering digital identity.

“If you wouldn’t do it offline, don’t do it online,” he said.

Lindsay, an attorney with the Coalition for Student and Academic Rights, spoke Tuesday night at Marshalltown Community College about cyberbullying and the perils of online activities. Lindsay detailed how students can protect themselves before law enforcement intervention is necessary.

He said that young people would do well to keep the real-world analogy in mind. Doing so would alleviate 99 percent of problems they face when managing their digital avatars, be it on Twitter, Facebook or via text messaging.

Lindsay used examples of sexting gone awry to illustrate how such activity can lead to child pornography charges when minors are involved. There are no good legal solutions for bad choices, he added.

“All the laws in the world can’t suck a picture back into a phone,” he said. “This stuff gets shared – plain and simple.”

He beckoned young people to think about others’ reactions to their behavior, both now and in the future.

The talk on cyberbullying comes just days after police arrested a local teen and charged him with an act of terrorism and two harassment charges for threats made via text messages.

Lindsay said there are several simple ways to young people can be proactive about cyberbullying. First, he said it’s important not to respond.

“Whatever they are doing, they are doing it to get a rise,” he said.

Documenting every detail of a peculiar exchange and reporting it if there is a hint of a threat both go a long way toward solving the issue, he added.

“In Iowa, law enforcement takes harassment very seriously,” said Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper. “Harassment complaints are some of the highest number of complaints we see at the police department.”

Aiddy Phomvisay, MHS principal, asked how Lindsay defined bullying.

While harassment and stalking have legal parameters, albeit vague ones, bullying lacks such parameters, which Lindsay said creates a bit of a conundrum.

Although public schools are not often bound by the same standards as the government as far as disciplinary action goes, cyberbullying presents unique challenges for schools even with their more stringent policies.

“Any law we have that says ‘hey you can’t be nasty to someone’ is going to bump up against the First Amendment,” he said. “It has to be a culture change.”

Lindsay offered some advice to those maintaining an online profile:

Check your privacy settings and make sure they are set to the strictest possible level.

Check your friends’ pages. Ask them to remove any unflattering information about you.

Be judicious about broadcasting your political or religious affiliations; don’t bad mouth employers.

Don’t join groups that would give others a bias against you (e.g., an “I hate the Marshalltown Police Department” Facebook page.)

Be cognizant of the information contained in photos you post. (e.g., pictures that show where you live, sexually explicit photos.)

By taking just a few small steps, people can avoid becoming victims, whether it’s a victim of cyberbullying, stalking or privacy invasion, Lindsay said.

Lastly, Lindsay said it’s important to remember that anything posted online stays online, presumably indefinitely.

“Once something goes up online, it’s not yours anymore,” he said.

MCC’s Student Activities Council sponsored Lindsay’s visit as part of the Not In Our Town campaign.