After months of cyberbullying caused a Texas teenager to commit suicide by shooting herself in front of her family, her father is asking legislators to act so that similar tragedies could be prevented. Eighteen-year-old Brandy Vela was subjected to an ongoing campaign of bullying and harassment.
Fake social media profiles were created with her name and picture, then used to post derogatory remarks about the high school student. She had also received harassing messages on her phone. Her father, Raul Vela, is now campaigning for increased penalties aimed at those who engage in cyberbullying and their parents.
Under current Texas laws, using online communications to harass someone is considered a misdemeanor. Mr. Vela believes that this is not enough and a new bill with increased penalties has been submitted to the state legislature. Measures to tackle cyberbullying have already been introduced in other parts of the country.
In Shawano, a town in Wisconsin, municipal ordinances have been passed that give local police greater powers to intervene in cases involving bullying. The parents of children under age eighteen who bully others online or in person will receive a warning that their child’s behavior needs to change within 90 days. If the behavior persists and the parents haven’t taken action, they can be fined $366 for the first offense.
However, not all are supportive of such measures. Critics believe that telling the difference between harmless horseplay and teasing among children and actual harassment isn’t always easy and requires subjective judgments to be made.