British teen becomes first jailed cyberbully for Facebook threat

August 23, 2009

British teen becomes first jailed cyberbully for Facebook threatI’ve seen some major incidents occur on Facebook, including what would be considered bullying in real life. But because it takes place on Facebook or one of the other numerous social networking sites, we usually ignore it, delete it, or dismiss it as a symptom of the Internet age. However, the seriousness of cyberbullying has been brought home this week with the jailing of a British teenager for a threat on Facebook.

Every new form of communication or piece of technology can be used for both good and bad. And that’s certainly the case with the Internet and in particular social networking. While sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, or Twitter have made keeping in touch with people easier, there’s also a downside to how they work.

Pedophiles can use them to groom children, spurned lovers can use them to spread gossip about their former partner, stalking and harassment have got a lot easier. And then there is cyberbullying and making threats to individuals.

The Daily Mail recently reported how 18-year-old Keeley Houghton has become the first person ever to be jailed for cyberbullying. The newspaper alleges that one of Houghton’s offenses against her victim Emily Moore was to post on her Facebook page, “Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a ******* liberty. Emily ****head Moore.”

This followed an alleged incident in a pub when Houghton harassed Moore. Friday (Aug. 20) saw Houghton sentenced to three months in a young offenders’ institution and a restraining order banning contact between the pair to last for five years.

Obviously there was more to this case than a threat on Facebook. The newspaper states that Houghton has two previous convictions in connection with her harassment of Moore. But still, the Facebook threat was considered important enough evidence to be mentioned in court, and it shows how cyberbullying is just as serious as everyday bullying is.

This is likely to be just the first of many such convictions where social networking and what is said on them gets someone in trouble. There seems to be a belief that what is said on the Internet doesn’t count the same as what is said in real life but that’s clearly not true. In fact, because it is usually written down and visible by more than just the victim and the perpetrator, cyberbullying threats can be more easily used as evidence.

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