Cyberbullying Leads to Teen Suicide

As reported by Geoff Mulvihill and Samantha Henry in the October 1, 2010 edition of the Providence Journal, an eighteen (18) year old college freshmen committed suicide last week. The teenager killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. The reason for his suicide is believed to be the posting on the Internet of intimate videos of the teenager and another man.

The teenager's roommate and another college freshman are alleged to have videotaped the teenager's sexual encounters and posted them on the Internet through a live feed. Both have been charged with two (2) counts of invasion of privacy. They may face additional charges, including cyberbullying/cyberstalking/cyberharassment.

Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 11-52-4.2 cyberstalking and cyberharassment is defined as: whoever transmits any communication by computer or other electronic device to any person or causes any person to be contacted for the sole purpose of harassing that person or his or her family. For the purpose of this section, "harassing" means any knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, or bothers the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be of a kind that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, or be in fear of bodily injury. "Course of conduct" means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, evidencing a continuity of purpose. Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of "course of conduct."

The penalties for cyberbullying include up to one (1) year imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500.00. Cyberbullying is the term used when referring to conduct by children and teenagers but Rhode Island law makes no distinction. Cyberbullying includes any type of harassment through electronic means, meaning e-mail, text messages, instant message, Facebook, MySpace, etc. Cyberbullying can occur through words, pictures or videotapes. In this case, it appears that the cyberbullying only occurred through a videotape feed to the Internet.

In Rhode Island, Internet crimes, like cyberbullying are often handled by the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit. The General Assembly is also looking into the issue and the Senate established a commission pursuant to S 2871A to "study and make recommendations to the Senate relating to the problem of cyber threats, cyberbullying," etc.

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