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Bully.com

A debate: Is cyberbullying inevitable, or can parents stop the tide?

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(Photoillustration: Len Small/Tablet Magazine; photos: iStockphoto)

If we are to learn one thing from the story we’ve been discussing, it is that both bully and victim are now immersed in a media torrent that leaves little room for privacy. This, of course, is no new discovery, but it is one, I believe, that remains largely baffling to parents, educators, and other figures of authority who are a day too late and a generation too old to grasp the full meaning of this tempest.

The social dramas of teendom now unfold in chatrooms and profiles and text messages, which makes it a bit strange to rage against one brash lawyer for forcing his daughter to keep an offensive video posted online. If anything, said gentleman may have inadvertently stumbled onto a greater emotional truth, namely that removing a video from YouTube could never calm the tides of a roaring, hypermediated communications sphere made up of intimate disclosures and revealing messages. When your average teenager continuously shares the most private details of his or her life in 140 characters or less, asking to remove one bit of film, no matter how hurtful, is like sticking a finger in the dam: very bad for the finger, and meaningless to the dam.

Parents, you write, should teach their kids to resist posting malicious content on the web. But malicious is what the web is about. While there are still bastions of thoughtfulness out there—we’re fortunate enough to be writing on one now—the medium lends itself mostly to snark and snide, to the intrusive and the unsubstantiated, to the frivolous and the ferocious and the fun. It favors the immediate and rewards the shameless with followers and fans. And while there is still a discernible boundary between the lighthearted and the vicious, that boundary is being eroded each day, too often with the consent of all involved. With every rant we hurl via Twitter, with every relationship ended via a Facebook status change, every time a thought or a feeling that should have been sublimated erupts into the ether, we’re slouching a little closer to Gomorrah.

It may be time, then, to wave the notion of lashon hara goodbye and realize that anyone growing up with friending and liking and tweeting would never again know the pleasures of a world in which privacy is upheld and gossip is localized. Rather than expect our children to adhere to growingly unrealistic rules of conduct, let us teach them instead how to use the tools at their disposal.

***

Dear PVDOMENCNMAANMBT,

First of all, “figures of authority who are a day late and a generation too old”? Lucky for you we’re separated by the Internet or I’d hit you with my walker.

Surprise, surprise: I don’t agree. Technology doesn’t change everything. I presume that even as we wear jetpacks and order Rosie the Robot to do the laundry, we will continue to teach our kids not to walk up to classmates and call them ugly, spoiled, brat, slut—in person, or online. The medium changes; the message is the same. I know you think I’m tilting at windmills, and it wouldn’t be the first time. But we live in a world that would be utterly alien to, say, Jews on the Lower East Side in 1910, yet we still have values of family, community, kindness, tzedakah, good humor. We haven’t given up everything that makes us human.

And remember the real human cost here: Bullying, online and in person, hurts everyone. Here’s a new survey from the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry showing that cyberbullying is dangerous for the bully and the victim. Researchers at Turku University in Finland found that bullying victims were at increased risk for emotional problems, poor general health, recurrent abdominal pain, and problems falling asleep. But the bullies suffered too—they had higher-than-average rates of headache and greater self-perceived difficulties in life. They also had more difficulty concentrating and a higher risk of substance abuse.

The upshot: We teach kids to look both ways before crossing. It isn’t hard to teach other basic rules: Think before you text. Don’t put things on Facebook that’ll get you negged by a future employer. Don’t send an email you wouldn’t want Grandma or your principal to read. Don’t give out your home address online. It’s basic education for our New World. And, hey, be kind, in every medium. As our old friend Rav Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”

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Linda says:

Now I must do teshuva for the harm I am wishing on the Evan Cohen family. They sound like the banality of evil incarnate–and there’s a real danger that people with young children will consider them the norm. They are not. Nice kids don’t pull that crap, and parents who teach their kids to be nice would clobber them if they did. I have an 18-year-old, and have witnessed her cyber-encounters throughout her tween and teen years. I have seen her friends use the net to console one another in times of tragedy, to share photos and videos of class trips, to encourage one another before tests and auditions and interviews, to support one another in times of transition, etc. Only once in those years has a kid in a Facebook group trash-talked another kid–and the offender was quickly denounced by others in the group. Which is what should happen to the Cohen kid. The only answer is to make sure the bullies are the one who are ostracized.

Wendy says:

Hey Liel- “It may be time, then, to wave the notion of lashon hara goodbye…” Seriously? Because we live in an age of moral depravity aided and abetted by social media, we throw decency, civilty and appropriate human to human behavior out the window? You’ve got to be kidding. Cyberbullying may in fact be the latest and greatest vehicle for lashon hara but that doesn’t mean we don’t do our damnest to teach our kids it’s wrong. What a great springboard Evan Cohen and his family have provided for us that still give a flip about raising decent menschen!

Sandra Faley says:

I could not agree MORE with Wendy!! She’s hit it right on the head!

“Kid B, arguably, could have easily logged on to her computer, fired up her webcam, and produced a video twice as scathing, twice as funny, and twice as popular.” The key word here is “arguably.” In reality, kids who are bullied are often those without the social skills, quick tongues, and confidence to avoid being branded a favorite target. It’s like saying to a clumsy, meek, physically weak child who’s been beaten up, “Hey, tomorrow, go beat that guy up twice as hard! Problem solved.” Is Liel’s point that we should never defend our kids, or try to keep them out of harm’s way, but just let things work themselves out Lord of the Flies-style? Nice.

I didn’t need you to specify who does and who doesn’t have kids in this debate, Marjorie. It comes through loud and clear.

Patrick Di Justo says:

Oh, Liel! “Technology changes everything” has been the rallying cry throughout history for Romantics who thinks that the current rules don’t have to apply to them. I myself spouted it in the early 1990s as one of the early internet evangelists. Then I grew up.

It shows up most clearly in your Retaliation Equation argument. You make the assumption that all people are created equally shitty; and that it is just as easy for Kid B to trash Kid A. As a former Kid B I can assure you that that ain’t necessarily so; some people just don’t have it in them to bully others, so by no stretch of the imagination is it “just as easy” for Kid B to retaliate. Unfortunately, since your argument relies on that, your argument falls apart at that point.

So what do we do with the kids who, through no fault of their own, grew up polite, respectful, and well behaved?

Diane says:

It would be interesting to learn if Kid B made a request to YouTube to have the video removed – and if they complied or not.

It would be most unfortunate if in this particular community there isn’t a friend, teacher or other parent who might teach Kid A a thing or two about ethics – because clearly she isn’t going to learn them from her father.

Evan Cohen says:

You can call me names if you like, but our case was about the limits on governmental power. Read the decision. The video in question had nothing to do with the school, was not “student speech,” and the school had no right to punish anyone over it. Despite the fact that this was none of the school’s business, they pressed on with the suspension, even though school boards are losing cases like this all over the country.

As for the video, we disagreed that it was “cyberbullying.” The NYT article is inaccurate; the video was posted again after the case was filed to assist the public debate over what is and what is not cyberbullying. It remained on YouTube for over two years without complaint, from anyone.

Evan Cohen
Los Angeles

Beth says:

Mr. Cohen,

I understand that the school system’s legal right to punish a student for behavior outside of school was the crux of the matter here. I do have two questions for you. 1) How then does a school system suspend a student for being arrested for smoking marijuana or other less damaging behaviors than your daughter’s. and

2) Did you in fact reprimand your daughter in any way for her behavior?

Thank you.

Evan Cohen says:

I invite you to read the decision. It is about First Amendment rights. For a school to punish a student because of speech, it must be “student speech,” or speech that causes a “substantial disruption” at school. In a separate decision, we also won on the due process issue, which can be summed up as “you can’t be suspended for breaking a rule that does not exist.”

Whether or not a school can suspend a student for being arrested for an off-campus crime (like drug use) was not the issue and I do not have an opinion on that.

Your comment that the plaintiff’s actions were “damaging” is not supported by the facts. She posted the video, and, approximately an hour later, offered to remove the video. The alleged victim told her “no, keep it up for now.” The alleged victim came to school the next day with her mother, seeking revenge.

Does that sound like cyberbullying to you? It was not.

Evan

Thanks for all the comments.

It’s worth noting that this is still a gray area, legally, in a lot of states. (NY State just passed a school anti-bullying law a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t mention online behavior. MOST state statutes don’t.)

Evan Cohen says:

As I noted in the Boston Globe article, many of these state statutes will be found to be unconstitutional, at some point. Speech that has nothing to do with school cannot be regulated by the state. How about text messaging during summer vacation? How about a fight at a Saturday soccer game? None of the school’s business.

The fact that authorities want to be able to punish students for anything they do and anywhere they do it, is just ignorance on the part of administrators regarding constitutional limits. It just isn’t going to be held up. And, if you look at the number of times that the schools have lost this fight, in court, in various states, it really isn’t that “grey.”

Marianna says:

I notice that Mr. Cohen has not responded to Beth’s second question in any way. The issue under discussion in this column isn’t the legal question of whether the school had the right to punish his daughter. The issue is the moral question of how parents should discharge their responsibilities to raise their kids as decent human beings in an environment where giving vent to one’s most vicious inclinations is so easy to do.

The Cohen family may be entirely correct on the legal front, but that says nothing about how they discharged their moral responsibilities. Mr. Cohen, surely you do not believe that your daughter acted appropriately in posting the video in the first place. If you don’t, the world wants to know what you did to bring home that moral lesson to your daughter. Or, if you do, how you defend it (without reference to the school’s actions).

Evan Cohen says:

I have responded to the second question. You may not like the response, but I stand by it.

Your question assumes that this was an act of “cyberbullying,” a conclusion with which I do not agree. It was a minor incident, and for which suspension was not even an option. You want to believe what you read in the NYT without even thinking about it. That’s your decision.

The lesson of this exercise is: stand up and fight for the Constitution. And I did.

Dear Patrick,

First of all, if you are the same Patrick Di Justo who wrote a magnificent article a few years back about the science of Battlestar Galactica, I’m a fan. As for your argument, I indeed make the assumption that all men were created with an inherent potential for evil, which makes the species that much more interesting. And I, like you, am suspicious of the argument that technology changes everything. In this case, however, it does: even if one does not believe that we all possess the capacity to do harm, one might still argue that, given access to mass media, one could at least learn how to retaliate to slurs made via the very same media. In other words, Kid B needn’t have been a bully or a jerk to respond, but could have uploaded a compelling response to YouTube. As both videos, most likely, could’ve have been hyperlinked and similarly tagged, anyone stumbling across one video would also see the other, and could judge which of the young women in question is the more appealing. I think this is a reasonable scenario, and a very encouraging one — the bullied fighting back with grace and a webcam.

And Mr. Cohen, I fully agree with your arguments and logic. Unlike other commenters, I think that your relationship with your daughter is, and should remain, utterly private. The important issue is the legal one, and your case, I think, sets an important boundary line.

Evan Cohen says:

Thanks, Liel, I appreciate it.

The NYT article – perhaps the way it was written — triggered some sort of histrionic moral outrage that was totally uncalled for.

I am proud of our case and the important issues it raised regarding free speech and the role of government in our children’s lives.

Marianna says:

@Mr. Cohen: My question does not assume whether or not the act in question met the legal definition of “cyberbullying.” It merely assumes that the video was intended to be (and was) hurtful to the girl it targeted. You have never denied that. The NYT piece may well be generating uncalled-for histrionics, but your posts have not contained anything that would cause me to rethink my response to this situation. Nor have you said a single word to cause anyone to think that you are not willfully blind to the moral issue here.

@Liel: Your position seems to imply that if a kid is not capable of uploading a “compelling” response, well, then, sucks to be her. Only the strong survive. Isn’t that position at odds with the Jewishness of this magazine? Doesn’t our tradition prize helping the weak? You genuinely think the moral issue is not as important as the legal one?

questioner says:

So what do you all think about a man who has anger management problems and uses demeaning and caustic language towards a woman (girlfriend), then accuses her of breaking her promise to keep what happens between them secret after he “breaks all ties” with her because she needed support after her feelings were grieviously hurt by his constant slurs and insults. This happened via cellphone, text, and email. Oftentimes someone will discuss such happenings as a form of protection should things escalate in some way.

In another scenario, is it lashon hara for a child to tell someone when their molester has bidden them “not to tell” …

I am asking in the light of the lashon hara aspect … at what point does someone’s behavior deserve to not be spoken of to another, which could technically be considered lashon hara, when THEY habitually dish out lashon hara first in very negative ways? Just wondering as studying Judaism and didn’t know what lashon hara was growing up.

Gavin says:

I admire the chutzpah it takes to claim for Mr. Cohen to claim that he responded to Beth’s second question, when any reader here can see that he has not. Perhaps he means that he answered it someplace else (or muttered something under his breath, or something else that ties idiom into a pretzel)? Or that ignoring it completely was his answer? Pro tip: “That’s none of your business” is a response; not answering is not.

The guy really hangs in there, and he raises a valid question from a constitutional perspective–I’ve always been uneasy with schools regulating the conduct of kids outside the context of the school/school-related events, etc. But I disagree with his (your) interpretation.

The thing that makes cyberbullying hard to address is that there’s no specific place where it happens, on or off campus–it’s nowhere and everywhere at the same time. But as I see it, during the school year, the social life of students is a single continuum from the locker bay to cyberspace. Something that’s instantly accessible to the entire student body like this has a huge impact on both the school community and on the ability of an individual student to participate in it. It’s like spraying tear gas at the school building from an adjacent lot. Did it happen on school property? No. Does that mean you just ignore it? No again. The school has a responsibility to defend its community and its students, and cyberbullying is no more protected speech than “Fire.”

And yes, fair enough that Mr. Cohen’s relationship with his daughter is his own business–I feel the same way about mine. What bothers me is the attitude that comes through both here and in the Times piece that he doesn’t seem to regard the posting of the video as regrettable or unfortunate in any way. Hey, it happened, and we struck a blow for Freedom of Speech! But isn’t worth saying at some point along the line, I’m sorry this happened? Or is the message that this is fine and normal, and kids shouldn’t feel any qualms about uncorking their hatred online?

VHJM van Neerven says:

Sorry, Marjorie, cannot help it:
An Uzi is a 9 mm. Or did you think it was a .45 or .50? Then you need a Desert Eagle, to stay with Israel.
Really sorry, again; but with mistakes like that, you undermine your whole argument.
(Of course, a regular Uzi packs two or three times the amount of rounds a “9 mil” has; but I could and would take out the Uzi-toting kid A with that 9 mil. before the kid has lifted her Uzi.)

Patrick Di Justo says:

Mr Cohen

Please forgive my rather limited brain, but I can’t find any evidence that you actually did answer the question “Did you in fact reprimand your daughter in any way for her behavior?”

I’m sure this is all my fault. Can you help me to see the light? Did you in fact reprimand your daughter in any way for her behavior?

VHJM van Neerven says:

I am editor-in-chief of VNCcommunicationcounsel. Most of our work is defense-related, hence my first comment. We make it our business to disseminate information that could be of importance to decision makers, or just of interest to any aware citizen of the world community.

I just did a quick refresher on lashon hara and I’m afraid that keeping that commandment would shut down most news and information channels, and more: Criticizing any wrong anywhere on our earth is most often lashon hara. Even the factual comment above about calibers is lashon hara in the strict interpretation.

So I really wonder: Do we really want to stay uninformed of evil and wrongdoing? Do we send our children to school to learn only the nice and cuddly stuff and keep silent about bad neighbours – like e.g. H’zbullah or Fatah? Do we, really? Do we, actually? V’ahavta l’rei’echa kamocha, Love your neighbor as yourself, is one of the underpinnings of the mitzvah against lashon hara – and it may be the essence of Tanach. Good precept. But can we live up to it? Do we? Should we? I digress deep and wide and I shudder at the thought I think. But I must.

Back to the matter at hand, I agree with Evan Cohen and Liel Leibovitz. In this information age, every thing will be discussed all over our earth, a lot of it drivel and viciousness. But parents’ relationship with their children is private, no business of this thread, nor of a school, nor of a government. Asking or telling them about their behavior towards them is, we all should be aware of that, lashon hara as well. And we are adults, no kids.

I shudder, but I must ask: Maybe the mitzvoth are all too hard to live by in real life, where we need to act?
I don’t know. But let us try to keep the commandment, even while we know we all will and must fail, time and again. Keeping silent too often is the greater harm.

Marjorie, Leil, Evan and all other commenters: Thank you all for the very worthwhile and thoughtful time you gave me.

Rachel says:

I stopped reading this when Liel said he has an NRA card.

Ack! Me and my cluelessness about firearms! I thought a 9mm was a handgun! Pathetic. (Not as bad as when I said Frau Blucher was a character in Blazing Saddles instead of Young Frankenstein, but close.) Gah.

You and Liel should totally start a blog to shame me.

Paula says:

We understood what you meant, and the idea that incorrectly referring to types of guns “undermines your whole argument” is nonsense.

Further, I note that Mr. Cohen has not argued that his response to his daughter’s action is private. Others are saying so for him. He is merely pretending that the question hasn’t been asked and that the answer doesn’t matter.

He wants only to talk about the legal issue, while Marjorie wants to talk about the moral issue. And he doesn’t seem to recognize that there is one.

Evan Cohen says:

There you go again. You don’t like the answer, so you pretend I haven’t answered it. Moreover, you read three lines in the New York Times about a complex case, and now you think you know everything about what happened. You don’t.

Let’s do this, one more time. I don’t agree that there was cyberbullying in this instance, and so I don’t agree with the premise of your question. This is, as we say in the law, a “lack of foundation.” “When did you stop beating your wife?” would be analogous. My daughter took a video of some kids talking about another girl. She put it on YouTube, and asked the girl if she (the other girl) wanted it taken down. She said “no, leave it up for now.” I’m sorry, that’s not cyberbullying, no matter why kind of hysteria you would like to drum up.

This was a minor matter, and yes, the discussions between parents and child are private. Certainly none of the school’s business, which was the point of the case. And also none of your business.

I’d like to think you can leave it at that, but, of course, you can’t. You — and you know who you are — NEED, yes, NEED to find some moral outrage in all of this, when you should be directing your outrage at the school district that overreacted and BROKE THE LAW regarding the First Amendment and due process.

I win a major victory for civil rights (and I’m not even a civil rights lawyer), and this is the thanks I get?

Luckily not all courts and states are as clueless as that idiot judge in California. I have taught rights and responsibilties to middle school student where I live and interestingly we discussed the curtailment of first amendment rights in school under the law (oh yes, I did graduate from a prestigious law school and deal with civil rights issues on a daily basis)and especially when it pertains to cyberbullying. The question it seems is that the judge in the Cohen case decided that the school could not interfere because the bullying incident, and yes it is bullying whether that useless father likes it or not, did not substantially interefere with the victims access to school. Well unfortunately that judge has no real understanding of what is considered substantial interefere. Here in NY it is as simple if it makes someone uncomfortable to access their education. So luckily we at least have some intelligence here in this state. You can not only be suspended here for cyberbullying of all kinds but you can also be arrested here too depending on the messages sent and removed from the school.It seems not only is the problem with Cohen’s inadequate parenting but as ususal, the courts in California really screwed up, This judge obviously has no real understanding of the effect of all kinds of social media on society and especially our children, nor does he have any idea of the limits even on free speech and it how it applies to education.

As far as the Cohen family, that child-bully when she gets out in the real world is going to get a real smackdown and daddy will not be able to do anything about it.She will not even see it coming and have no ability to deal with society as it is. But that is what you get when you raise a human being to be a lousy person.

On another aside, I hope that the bullied girl sues the Cohen family for slander and libel and gets all the money the Cohen’s received from the school district and then some.

Evan Cohen says:

I highly doubt Elise “graduated from law school,” let alone a good one, or even has had any legal training. She can’t even spell.

And, if she were a lawyer, she would have read the Court’s decision, written by Judge Wilson, a Reagan appointee and generally considered to be a judicial conservative. As can be gleaned by the excellent summary of cases therein, school districts have been losing cases like this all over the country, notwithstanding the abundance of right-wing, authoritarian personalities like Elise. Get over it, Elise, you hack. No “substantial interference.” Sorry. If it were up to you, one “mean” text message would land a student in irons, rights revoked, sitting at home, suspended, or, as you apparently want, in jail. You sicken me.

And I know you are not a lawyer, because you would know that libel and slander cases are only meritorious if they contain a provably false assertion of fact, which this video did not. Calling someone “spoiled” is not libel or slander, Elise. If there’s any suit to be brought, it’s against the law school who let an ignorant fool like you out to prey upon an unsuspecting public. Maybe you can get your money back.

Let’s hear it, Elise. Name your law school and the graduating year, so we can verify your claim.

Oh is that supposed to hurt my feelings. Its not a wonder your daughter is a bully, she obviously learned how to be a looser from her father. You can’t win an argument so you name call. You really need to grow up.

Evan Cohen says:

That’s funny. You can’t even competently write a couple of sentences. It’s “loser,” Elise, not “looser.”

Go ahead, Elise. What’s your law school, idiot? Right. You didn’t go to one. You’re also a liar. Go ahead. Prove me wrong. Name it. And the graduating year. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

And I’ve already won the argument.

Actually there is no argument you have proven yourself to be a bully and that is all there is to it. So sad, you are just so sad.

Evan Cohen says:

Sad? That’s funny. When stupid people run out of things to say, or when they’ve been called out as a liar, as you have just been, they resort to meaningless phrases like “you’re sad.” Is that be best you can do?

Now, let’s get back to you, Elise. What is the name of the law school you attended? Or, let’s talk about why you feel you need to lie about going to law school. Does it make you feel important?

Marianna says:

The above exchange between Evan and Elise is such a good example of why it is particularly important to teach our children to walk in the modern world with decency and sensitivity. Look how quickly things degenerated into screeching and name-calling — much more quickly than would have happened in a face-to-face conversation.

Evan, you are technically right on the legal issue. But that kind of interaction between students is ABSOLUTELY the school’s business, since it creates, well, let’s call it a “hostile school environment” for the child who is the target of the video. Your daughter’s school may not have had the right to suspend her, but it definitely should have addressed the matter in some way.

And you are right that discussions between a parent and child are private. But you have chosen to participate in the public discussion, and you feed the flames by refusing to acknowledge that your daughter was wrong in any way. Even if the school district’s act was illegal, the video was still immoral. The school’s illegal action does not cancel out your daughter’s fault.

Moreover, your description of the situation is not very credible. Who puts up a mean video, then immediately turns the the victim and offers to take it down? Why would the victim tell her to leave it up? It just doesn’t make sense. So, once again, your comments won’t cause anyone to change their minds on the situation.

And don’t think it’s because the non-lawyers just don’t understand. I don’t know about Elise, but I graduated from NYU Law. And despite being a lawyer, I still think there is more to this than the legal issue.

Jane says:

While not an attorney, I understand that the LAW was upheld here, but not the ethical obligations of society. I also deal with civil rights issues on a daily basis, though, unlike Elise, I am not an attorney.

In my experience, creating a “hostile work environment” goes against the law, and certainly against justice. Cyberbullying creates that hostile work environment, just as surely as doing it in person. This is an environment that the victim is required to attend every day, and in which God knows how many classmates have seen the video (though it’s obvious SHE did – harm done right there, to high school kids with significant peer group insecurity and dependence) and how many Facebook or Twitter sharings that video received…

In my humble opinion, we need to revisit creating a hostile environment for that child, not call each other names. That profits no one, Mr. Cohen. Nor do letters, diplomas and degrees determine intelligence. Never have, never will. We’re talking about the right of a student to attend and learn at school without the gossipy nasty trashtalk virally spread throughout a peer group she’s stuck with.

Though I appreciate that the school possibly shouldn’t have intervened with their own punishment, I do believe that they should have made you award of the situation that your daughter was creating a hostile environment for the victim, and that you should have responded by having her make an apology video and “share” it in all the ways she “shared” the original video.

I like keeping schools out of our private lives. The victim’s parents should have sued you and your daughter directly, for defamation of character and harassment. Maybe they didn’t know they could, I don’t know. I also like though, that the school at least made you aware, which is in their jurisdiction.

JCarpenter says:

Cohens’ _legal point made; God bless ‘em for taking that stand for personal rights, etc.
Cohens’ moral point? How did they reconcile with their neighbor—or isn’t that as important as the legal point?
Would they take a stand for personal rights of victims?

Marianna-
I graduated from Boston University. I am also a child advocate particularly for special needs children who happen to be targeted by bullies of all stripes constantly.

What have I missed? Mr Cohen’s daughter posted a video of OTHER PEOPLE making nasty remarks about someone else. She encouraged but didn’t force them to make their comments, and then she exposed them.

How is the target of their unpleasantness a victim of Mr Cohen’s daughter rather than being a victim of the girls who made the remarks Mr Cohen’s daughter recorded?

And why all the unpleasantness directed at Mr Cohen here? He calls out someone who claims to be a lawyer because she can’t spell and because her insults are idiotic. Is there a law against reasonably suspecting a fool to be a fool, and saying so?

And why the baiting? Answer the question, etc. After the first couple of paras into the NYT report, the question is answered. Considering this is an article apparently concerned with bullying, it’s ironic that reading is more onerous than name calling.

Is all this nothing so much as shoot the messenger?

Jane says:

True, while it was a video of OTHER’s comments, that does not absolve her from placing the video in public view, nor of “sharing” online. It’s ethics, people.

Your rights stop where I begin. Nobody’s shooting the messenger, whose messenger was she? Whose messenger is Mr. Cohen?

The real message here is don’t do things online that you don’t want seen. And apparently, Mr. Cohen is preventing his daughter and himself from learning that lesson.

Linda says:

Clearly Mr. Cohen is too busy patting himself on the back for carrying the banner of free speech to be concerned about the morality of his daughter’s and her friends’ behavior.

Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right.

It is beyond me how someone could be so callous in an age where the media have made the public aware of bullied kids who commit suicide.
However, it is truly heartening to read the very thoughtful and literate responses from readers.

@Jane

Thanks for your reply, sincerely though, I am still confused. I can’t think that you intend to find a moral that says “don’t do things online that you don’t want seen” because that suggests that it’s the publicity which determines the rightness or wrongness of actions.

Wow. My response to all this is:

Yom Kippur is still a couple of months away. There is still time. It is not too late.

Mr. Cohen and Elise can still apologize to each other for their treatment of each other in this comments section.

Perhaps the year has passed in which the video has posted, but Mr. Cohen’s daughter and the others in the video can still apologize to the person discussed in the video.

This is not a legal imperative; it is about doing what is right. Even if it wasn’t bullying, even if there were no complaints, the things said in the video are hurtful. They are hurtful to the people who said them, they are hurtful to the person being talked about, they are hurtful to others who watched the video.

It is about healing the community. We may hurt each other but we don’t have to just leave it at that, even when legally we have every right to do so.

It’s not too late.

Elise says:

Dear Susan- I can see that you are a good and heartfelt person. However, it is not appropriate for a parent to allow their child to bully others and it should not be allowed, tolerated nor accepted under the guise of Constitutional rights. Nor should that parent ever be given a free pass.It is only when society holds parents up to the ridicule that they deserve for their lack of parental leadership will society be able to rid itself of all forms of bullying. The bullied child is entitled to be part of the community as well, and when shortshrift is given to their pain and trauma there is no community to speak of worth belonging to. I wish you peace, you are truly a kind person.

Evan Cohen says:

Putting aside all of the personal stuff:

This “hostile work environment” issue is not the legal standard regarding when schools can step in and punish. The standard is “substantial disruption,” as in the Tinker case. The defendants in the case, and many people on this board, take the issue way too far and argue that “anything” can be a “disruption” that causes hurt feelings and makes the learning environment stressful or more difficult. They want to schools to have the power to punish, to suspend, etc., for anything that one student “does” to another.

Wrong. Not constitutional. When students are outside of school, they have the same free speech rights as anyone else. People call each other names. They get into arguments. They send mean texts and emails. They post mean postings on Facebook. At night. During summer vacation. On weekends. Not at school.

Now, do you want the school to be involved in these off-campus matters? I don’t. These matters are none of the school’s business. The line must be drawn. Merely coming to school with hurt feelings is not enough to trigger governmental power. There must be disruption AT school, and the judge in this case rightly found that the school’s claims of disruption were simply not credible. They overreacted.

And, Jane, your silly little revenge fantasy about me being “sued for defamation” will not be realized. This was not defamation. This was a stupid, juvenile video of some kids talking about other kids. It happened over two years ago. No one cares anymore, it’s over.

Elise -

I agree it is not okay for a parent to allow their child to bully others. I heartily disagree that ridicule of the parents is the answer. It’s just another form of bullying.

We need to model proper, respectful, constructive behavior to both parents and children, to demonstrate there is a healthier, more healing way to go about things.

Elise says:

Susan-
Point taken. However, what do you do when you have a child that is a bully and the parents do nothing about it, in fact will not accept that their children did anything wrong. I think societal deriscion is the way to go. We remove from our society people that commit crimes, that is also ridicule of some kind. Bullying is a crime of the soul (as well as assault) and should be dealt with harshly. We have seen the effects of cyberbullying with the suicides of many young people. It is not a minor issue but something that is life effecting for the victim.

Also as an advocate for special needs children there is tremendous evidence that these victim/children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from the amount of bullying they endure through out school. It is society’s responsibility to ensure that these children, the most vulnerable in society, are protected from their abusers. Most are not capable of defending themseleves. They lack without question the necessary social skills to self-advocate and most do not have a posse of friends to back them up. it is why they are easy targets.

It would be very nice, if parents/adults modeled appropriate behavior for their chidlren, however, I have seen first hand parents actively egg their children on and make excuses for their childrens bullying behavior. That is why there has to be a societal code and societal “shunning” if you will for those who help promote or excuse bullying of any kind.

On another note, it is the responsibility of the school to protect and police the children in their midsts. If there is an issue outside of the school that effects their functioning in the school it is the school’s job to look into it. There are even rules and laws that govern behavior of that kind.It is a form of abuse and abuse does fall under the purview of the schools.

Interestingly, colleges and univerities are not shy about behavior/bullying codes on and off campus as well. These codes R strictly enforced. It is no joke.

What I suggest we do is follow our laws regarding rebuking those who have done wrong. Try, respectfuly and with kindness, and in private if possible, to show the person the error of their ways. If we do not believe they will listen to us, try to find someone they respect who will have more success. If we know of no such person, and have done all we can, we move on.

Unfortunately, we can’t control the behaviour of others. But we can control our own behaviour.

“B’makom she ein anshim, hishtadeil l’hiot ish,” which can be translated as, “In a place where nobody is acting human, strive to act human.”

SoSad says:

Apologies in advance for the use of offensive language (to everyone other than the villain in this piece):
http://worldofsuck.net/index.php/2010/06/28/evan-s-cohen-living-proof-that-record-industry-lawyers-really-are-douchebags?blog=2

Evan Cohen says:

More histrionics. Civil rights lawyers are often insulted by people who are upset they would stand up for the Constitution. Big deal.

SoSad, is that the best you can do? Parrot other people’s insults? Apparently.

Marianna says:

Evan: In fact, I DO want the school involved in these “off-campus” matters, because I see it as the school’s job (as well as the parents’ job, of course) to teach children appropriate behavior in a community context. When both children involved are part of the school community, I believe some response on the part of the school administration is wholly appropriate.

It is important that the actors here are not adults. They are children, still in formation, still learning wrong from right. Making this video was wrong. The school was right to send that message to the child who made it.

Snortwood says:

As a recovering attorney and the parent of an adolescent girl (but! I haven’t seen the video, going by snippets; haven’t read the court case, either – I tend to avoid the NYT, Zionist that I am) I think: some folks get all cranked by the idea that bullying has taken place and immediately assume they know who the bad guy is. And get moral. Sheesh.

As a parent I know this: you want to stay out of it and only get between the kids (yours, yes, but even more so yours & not_yours) when they squabble when the teeter is totally tottered.

Note: What is it that the State has done, if not bullying in this case? Get cranked about that. Recognize the inordinate power the state (in the form of the School District) can wield, and how tempting it is for School Administrators to wield that power beyond their scope, and you might come at the entire matter less judgmentally. As the courts, in the end, have done. There must be a reason why the Cohens “won” this case.

Because when the State lumbers in mashing trees to catch rabbits, and it is your own child that is treated as a rodent, I can’t imagine a single parent who wouldn’t (a) uphold the rights of their own child in front of every court in the land when it was patently clear that the bullying came from the powerful arm of the state (where the upfront fees were not an issue, mind you), and (b) privately admonish the hell out of junior for acting in a way that doesn’t speak well of the family(“another fine mess” would be the least of it).

One thing that keeps coming to mind, the idea that bullies, and I’m still speaking of the behavior of the School District as bully in this vein, bullies are generally the ones that are the most afraid. What is it the Schools are so afraid of? That would be a worthwhile thread to pursue. I’d like to know.

Ranting and name-calling, here and in links posted (U235, what a cesspool your blog is) get a life. Don’t need that here, there, anywhere.

The cognitive dissonance in all this is awesome to behold. I am sitting here in Jerusalem, scratching my head. A Jewish magazine, intending to some sort of justice reconcilling post-modernity and Jewish ‘sensibility’ creates a venue for a discussion on the most basic of Jewish concerns: How we treat each other. The inyan – issue – of LaShon Hara is so serious, it is equated in the Talmud with murder – murdering the Tzelem Elokim/Image of God – within the minds of the deliverer, receiver and of course object/subject.

I take two particular notes about how Mr. Cohen represents of himself through his actions and writings: In the first, it is interesting to note that he ignores the Jewish component of the discussion (as does Liel). In the second, I take note of his name – Cohen. It is a name that tells us he is the progeny of Aharon HaCohen, who is defined as ‘Ohaiv Shalom’ – lover of peace. Aharon spent his life bringing peace between people. His whole being was dedicated to healing hurt between people. His grandson Evan clearly knows nothing of this and cares less.
On the contrary. He exacerbates the hurt through astounding insensitivity and self-serving sophistry, taking cover behind an inferior set of values. He is a disgrace to his name as well as any notion of what the word ‘Law’ means. He is part of a Nation that brought Law to the world to make it better, not to use it to insulate oneself from responsibility for their actions and choices and how they impact upon another. A tragic American Jewish tale.

Further, I wonder if he ever says the ‘Shma.’ You know, the one about God is One. What does One mean? There’s no escape, everything is connected, the separations are an illusion. It is not a private a thing between parent and child, because what goes on between them gets played out and manifested once the child walks out the door of her/his home.

To be continued….

Richard Stark says:

There is a simple solution to “cyberbullying”. Turn the computer, cell phone or whatever, OFF. Unlike regular bullying, where someone confronts you physically or taunts you, no one is forcing the child to read the emails or text messages. And no one can force a girl to watch Youtube.

To the parents whose children are being bullied:
1. The school has no control over what students do after school and on weekends, beyond trying to educate students about appropriate behavior. I think that’s why the court upheld the father’s complaint.

2. Take the phone or computer privilege away (from both the bully and the victim), until they become mature enough to use it properly.

IMO, the problem today is that parents are unwilling to take responsibility for teaching values to their kids. They want the schools and the rest of society to do their job. It’s like trying to ban pornography or movies or TV with things you don’t want your kid to see. TURN IT OFF. Don’t allow your kid to watch or listen. But don’t deprive the broadcasters of their First Amendment rights, or prevent me from watching adult programs if I want to.

Marianna says:

@Snortwood: I think one thing that has people so riled up at Evan on this thread, as well as more generally, is that he has not admitted that your point (b) is at all relevant in this discussion.

I don’t think “Turn It Off” is a realistic expectation. That’s like depriving your children of all sugar or all non-educational toys — unless you live in a super-homogeneous community, your kid eventually leaves your tiny cocoon and your edicts won’t work out in the wider world. PLUS you’ve deprived your kid of decision-making skills. That’s why we need to be explicit about our (Jewish and ethical!) values, AND teach media and technological literacy.

Meanwhile, New York City’s Department of Education just proposed a change to the city schools’ Discipline Code: now cyberbullying (“intimidating and bullying behavior through electronic communication”) will be subject to a disciplinary beat-down. According to our indispensable local resource Inside Schools, the new version of the code will also emphasize counseling, peer mediation, and parent outreach instead of relying so much on suspensions. Which I think sounds good — does anyone learn anything from suspension except “don’t get caught”? (Or in some people’s case: TIME TO SUE.) I can see counseling and perhaps parent outreach having more impact than mediation…though of course, parent outreach won’t work if the parents are also bullies or refuse to acknowledge their child’s wrongdoing. On my personal blog I included some links to current research showing that mediation is misguided when it comes to bullying: Mediation assumes that both parties have a valid point of view, but bullying is closer to child abuse: it’s just WRONG. Zero Tolerance policies aren’t a good approach either; if the punishment for bullying is invariably huge, kids may hesitate to report bullying for fear of retaliation, and kids who bully won’t learn strategies to change their behavior — they’ll just get booted. (And if their daddies sue, not even that.)

Linda says:

I can tell you what the school is afraid of. It’s called Columbine.

Evan Cohen says:

Marianna –

Notwithstanding what you WANT, the school CAN’T get involved in off-campus matters without violating constitutional rights.

Off-campus, really? Everything? Really? How about if two kids, in the middle of the summer, call each other names. Maybe one repeats the insult on Facebook that day. The first day of school, two months later, one walks into the counselor’s office and says “Johnny hurt my feelings. Johnny is a cyberbully.” You want Johnny suspended, right? Is that your solution?

Too bad. No power. Case after case is in accord. The kids are going to have to work it out themselves. The school is not a “super parent.”

Evan Cohen says:

Linda:

Ah yes. Columbine. The excuse of ever incompetent administrator. “Hey, we can’t have another Columbine around here.”

One girl called another girl “spoiled.” Someone needs to know that there’s a difference between a stupid video and “Columbine.”

Mr. Cohen? I had no revenge fantasy…I merely said,”They should have sued you and your daughter…” That was the course open to them. They chose otherwise. Not my call. But if I’d received the response from you that they did, I would have. I would certainly file a harassment complaint.

Having kids who have disabilities makes us much more aware of bullying situations, since our kids are more vulnerable.

In one situation, the bully would stand on the sidewalk (which is public, as you know) and threaten my kids if they rode their trikes down to his end of the block. He brandished a knife on one occasion, and shot my then 5 year old with an air pellet gun. I reported it. His parents made up excuses and alibis and nothing could be done. These helpless situations are made worse by the, “My child can do no wrong” mentality.

We have an obligation to our kids..on both sides. The bullied need to be protected and taught to deal with bullies. The bullies need to be taught as well. They are lacking some sort of social ability, and think they are problem solving by their cruelty, in that people do what they say, or react with them.

It’s been said that “to fail tell someone how you feel denies them the opportunity to change”. Kids will be kids, but the reason we don’t call them adults yet is that they are still growing and in need of guidance.
If we deny them that guidance, they are going to do worse than they currently are.

Evan Cohen says:

Rabbi –

Do me a favor and do not make any assumptions about my family history. Your words are false and obnoxious. How dare you. My grandfather was a great man, came to the United States from the Ukraine and respected the law. My father was a great lawyer and taught me well. The case at hand was a scholarly effort to learn the law regarding civil rights, submit well-written and well-researched arguments to the court, and bring about an important lesson of about the limits of governmental power.

Your insults and disrespect towards honest work, and the quest for civil rights, are disgusting to me. Where I come from, Jews fight for their rights and the rights of others. Perhaps it’s better that you don’t live here. Seriously.

Wendy says:

This has been a fascinating discussion- one that I’ve felt compelled to revisit several times over the course of the last few days. I hope it continues over the course of the week.

I think the issue really falls into 2 areas that, sadly, don’t always co-exist in our country. The first is the civil arena- individual rights- fought for and won by Mr. Cohen. The second is the Jewish arena- more about what’s good for the community and how we behave as a group.

In the cyberbullying and school power scenario a judgement has been made. But what of the moral and ethical case? What’s the ultimate judgement about how the children behaved toward each other, or how some behave toward each other on this blog? The mitzvot provide guidelines for appropriate behavior human to human. But there’s no lawsuit against someone not treating you the way you don’t want to be treated.

I prefer living along the lines of the moral-ethical arena but am thankful to live in a country where Mr. Cohen can take the civil arena on this issue.

Marianna says:

Evan: You are arguing with the extreme of my position, not with my actual argument. The logical extreme of an argument is always a convenient strawman, but rarely useful in elucidating the nuances of a debate or in changing anyone’s mind.

There is a whole range of responses that a school can make in any given situation. Part of the school’s job is to have the good judgment to tailor the consequence to the act. Suspension may have been excessive in the case of your daughter’s video. And it would be excessive in the scenario you just described. But SOME response on the part of the school IS appropriate, because teaching kids to be decent members of a community is part of a school’s educational mission.

Mr. cohen,

1- The grandfather I referred to was the original Cohen, Aharon. Not your father’s father. So I hope you read legal papers more carefully than you read my words.

2- I am a great champion of the limits on governmental powers. You simply refuse to acknowledge a Jewish discussion of an issue with Jewish legal implications in a Jewish magazine that is addressed on Jewish terms. Defending rights are great. Keep on, keeping on. But it is in and remains revealing how you possess no humility to even acknowledge the Jewish components involved. That, sir, is indeed a disgrace to the progenitor of your entire family line. And I would bet that the knowledge you possess of Aharon HaKohen Ohaiv Shalom could maybe fill a thimble.

3- Insults? Have you no sensibility to at least the tenor of all your postings?

4- For everyone else who actually cares about even being at risk of hurting someone through speech, the all-time expert on Lashon Hara, the Chofetz Chaim (ever heard of him, Evan?) made clear that when one does something in the public arena, they forfeit the protections and remedies that the laws of Lashon Hara provide.

5- Finally, where there is a conflict between man-made American laws, which are not based upon truth or justice (an act can be permitted in one local and felonious in another) and can be changed at the whim of an executive finding or the changed in the balance of political power or the make-up of a court, and Divine Law which has endured for 3700 years and is based solely upon truth and justice, I’ll take Halacha any day of the week.

Oh, BTW, I’ve been gentle with you, Mr. Cohen. And I care not as to whether you ‘like me’ or not. In that, we are the same. You obviously care not whether you are even likeable. Shabbat Shalom and have an easy fast on Monday night/Tuesday.

miha says:

What this article is all about?
???

Maybe this bully Dad and bully girl legally got away with it, but what are they going to say to the great Judge in the Sky this Yom Kippur ?

I certainly know what The Judge is going say to them: How you treat others is how I am going to treat you. Beware.

Jordana says:

Sometimes the recipient of bullying provokes the attack, and sometimes he or she is simply a victim. Either way, bullying hurts everyone. Parents should consider what kind of child they want to raise: a child that is secure and empathetic enough to be kind and strong and self-possessed enough to stick up for what is right seems to be ideal. Evan might have a lovely daughter who simply made a mistake (all kids do). Sadly, for her most of all, he is not teaching his child kindness or integrity. His energies are tragically misplaced. Perhaps this has been all too public for him to recant. Humility seems to come hard to him. Hopefully, for his daughter’s sake, he can support her own efforts to do the right thing. She had a great instinct–to take it down. He needs to help her make amends. If he can’t, then he must let her find her own way, not quash her healthy desire to make up for wrongdoing. If she doesn’t take some kind of responsibility for her actions now, she will be harmed by this event more than Evan can appreciate.

Moshe Pesach Geller says:

Final thought: It’s so interesting to make note of the fact that the article and comment thread about how we treat each other has come during the Three Weeks/Nine Days/Tisha B’AV period which is all about destruction that results from the horrible ways we treat each other through ‘free speech.’
How much more horrible when evil speech is broadcast so that everyone can participate in the sin. Interesting.

Evan Cohen says:

Are you people still talking about this?

Jordana, your comments are abhorrent to me. Fighting for civil rights — “tragically misplaced”?? Someone had to stand up for the Constitution. That person was me. I’m sorry you feel ashamed about such things. Do you live in the United States? It doesn’t sound like it.

And, for the 63rd time this month, I will say this again: The video was put up AFTER the case was filed, because of the public debate. The NYT article was inaccurate; the offer to take the video down was BEFORE the case was filed, but the alleged victim WANTED IT KEPT UP. Read the case. Does that sound like “cyberbullying”?

Jordana, get a clue.

Marianna says:

Yes, Evan, shockingly, people are still interested in issues of decency, and in reconciling the requirements of the law with those of the heart. You’re the one in desperate need of a clue.

Evan Cohen says:

Marianna –

Time for you to join the “get a clue” club.

“Decency” also means treating citizens with respect and not arbitrarily infringing on their civil rights. We addressed this outrage, and we won. What have you done for the Constitution…ever?

Now, go wag your self-righteous finger at someone else, and stop cyber-bullying me.

Marianna says:

I’ve done plenty for the Constitution, actually, but that is neither here nor there.

Tell me, why do you refuse to acknowledge any component to this discussion other than the legal one? Is it so difficult to conceive that the law may not be all there is to it? When you say that “citizens” should be treated with respect, do you genuinely believe that it is only the government that has that obligation? Is it possible, just maybe, that “citizens” should also treat each other with respect? Is “respect” just limited to “not infringing on their civil rights” or does it have a broader meaning?

I don’t think so that it is possible. It is very hard to have a check on the child’s activities on the net. You can’t spend all the time with your child. I think it is not good to have severe check as it may disturb the child mentally.

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