Boston University Law Review Annex
Bullying is generally understood among academics and educators as having to meet three criteria: (1) it must be verbal or physical aggression; (2) it must be repeated over time; and (3) it must involve a power differential. When talking about cyber bullying, the aggression is mostly verbal, using “threats, blackmail. . . gossip and rumors” and online personas or messages can be more cruel, vindictive and mean. Though cyber bullying typically describes acts between children, the same acts by adults could also be considered cyber harassment. Unlike harassment, however, bullying does not have a history of criminal liability—though all 50 states have now passed anti-bullying legislation, such laws did not exist before 1999.
But what about online harms that don’t fall into the definitions of cyber harassment or cyber bullying? How do you characterize the story of Walter Palmer, the mid-Western dentist vilified on- and offline for killing a lion on a hunting trip to Africa? Or Justine Sacco, the young woman whose racist Tweet about AIDS triggered viral worldwide outrage? Or Gene Cooley, the man run out of his small town in Georgia by anonymous and untruthful postings on an Internet message board?