In The News‎ > ‎

Cyber bullying - when to get the police involved (updated)

posted Feb 10, 2015, 11:29 AM by Craig Cox   [ updated Feb 11, 2015, 6:33 AM ]
A journalist at the BBC writes about how he was able to out the identity of an internet "troll" -- his word for a cyber bully -- and provide the identity to prosecutors.  It's an intense read, at least when describing the kinds of tweets that were being sent.

One of the take-aways for me is that there is a difference between an annoyance and a crime.  For annoyances, communications companies will usually provide some way to filter the messages, but generally do not track down the sender.  "Spam" email falls into this category; and spam can crop up everywhere -- phone texts, social media, instant messaging and other media I've probably overlooked.  Again:  Companies will help you block the messages, but not to track down the messenger.

But sometimes such messaging can actually break the law.  The Delaware Code (Title 11 Chp 5 SC VII ss 1311, 1312) says that you can't threaten to harm people, nor even cause fear, alarm or distress (using the "reasonable person" standard).  As I am not a lawyer, there may be other laws that apply, depending on what the message said.  The sender should be held accountable in any case.  Unfortunately, the company whose product was used to transmit the threat (Twitter or the cell phone carrier or the email provider) will usually want to work with law enforcement rather than with the consumer.

Your best bet, if threatened, is to keep the message -- do NOT delete it -- and report it to the police.  If the threat was received here at the college, get Public Safety involved to begin with (phone numbers at link, in the right margin).  If you received it elsewhere, contact your local police, or the State police if you live outside of town limits in Kent or Sussex counties.

With email, there is a wealth of information carried in the email header itself.  Contact your email provider for instructions on preserving these headers.  For cell phone calls and texts, there are articles on line with more detail, such as this one, but getting a copy of your records may involve a call to customer service.  For social web sites, let the site's help desk know that you are getting the police involved and ask them to help preserve evidence.  In all cases, please be clear that you're not trying to get the company in trouble with the police, but seeking the company's help in getting a troublemaker out of their system.  It's in the best interest of a communication company -- Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Verizon, AT&T, any of them -- to kick trolls off their service.  (They know this, even when they're bad at it.)

Bottom line:  You don't have to just put up with threatening or bullying messages.  Get police or Public Safety involved.  Keep the evidence.

Update Feb 11:  If the threat came in via text message, it could also be that WBOC has been hacked again and the hackers are abusing the station's alert subscribers.