Cyber bullying is bullying carried out with the aid of recent technologies such as the internet (e-mails, chat rooms, discussion groups, ‘MySpace’ and instant messaging) and the mobile phone (texting or short messaging service (SMS)). These technologies allow the bully (or a group of bullies) to intimidate other students, for example, by:
In a paper delivered in 2007 (which is available to download from the Education and Schools page of Emil Ford’s website www.emilford.com.au), David Ford discussed the potential for a school to be liable to students who have been the subject of cyber bullying. He then recommended that schools take the following steps to protect students and to minimise the risk of liability:
Schools may find themselves liable if they are found vicariously responsible for the actions of staff through their use of the internet or email. Staff usage of the school's computer network system using the school's email address can make the school responsible for their employees' actions. The school may escape liability if it can show reasonable steps have been taken to prevent staff from breaching the law.
The common practice of sending jokes or pictures by email may expose schools to risks in the areas of discrimination and sexual harassment. Both federal and state law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, transgender status, marital status, pregnancy, responsibilities as a carer, disability, sexual preference, age and HIV/AIDS status. Schools could also be exposed to defamation claims as a result of emails sent by staff.
Accordingly, there should be regular training for staff about appropriate use and management of emails. Staff must be made aware of what the school expects of them. They should also be told that their work and correspondence may be inspected.
A good email policy is essential. It may be part of a general IT policy or could be in the school's harassment policy. Like other important policies (e.g. child protection), the email policy should be given to all staff when they start their employment. They should sign to acknowledge that they have read and understood its terms.
The Spam Act 2003 (Cwlth) sets up a scheme for regulating the sending of commercial electronic messages. Generally speaking, the Act:
"Address-harvesting software" is software used for searching the internet for electronic addresses, and collecting, compiling, capturing or otherwise harvesting those addresses.
"Commercial emails" are basically messages sent for a purpose which includes advertising or assisting or enabling a person, by deception, to dishonestly obtain a gain from another.
Schools may send unsolicited commercial emails and may send commercial emails without an unsubscribe facility if:
The message must only contain factual information, with or without directly related comment, and the following:
The information in the message must comply with the condition(s), if any, specified in the regulations and the information must be reasonably likely to be valid for at least 30 days after the message is sent.