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What is Cyberbullying?

The internet is an information goldmine connecting people across the globe. It is also the birthing ground of the online trolls, flamers and cyber-stalkers that fall under the general title of "cyberbully."

What do these terms mean?

A Troll is a person who uses the internet to launch malicious attacks. While a troll can believe in a certain cause, they generally attack more for personal amusement than a genuine purpose. Trolling usually includes insults of gender, race, age, sexuality, religious affiliation, intelligence and appearance, as well as personal threats. Various levels of troll attacks can be found on just about every comment section under YouTube music videos and controversial news pieces.

Flamers are participants in Flame Wars, online fights that quickly turn personal. Flame wars are more common to forums but can appear in many formats. These fights frequently begin as differences of opinion, like fandom favorites or political opinions, but escalate as the commenters lose patience with the other side's refusal to surrender. Flamers are different from trolls in that the people they insult generally return their blows.

Cyber-stalking is when online harassment has the potential to become physically dangerous. Cyber-stalkers use electronic devices to find and harass their victim. Rather than trolls, who tend to attack through fixed locations, cyber-stalkers will track their target through social media and possibly escalate to real-world stalking and violence.

How is cyberbullying different from expressing your right to free speech? It is true that there are gray areas between expressing an opinion and bullying, but a good basis for distinction is this: If you said something in real life to a reasonable individual, how would they take it? Many people accept constructive criticism or even disagreement with the way they think or the things they do, but there comes a point when criticism becomes an attack (aka "I don't agree with your point" vs "ur stupid"). While there are no definitive federal cyber-bullying responses, internet harassment and stalking can be charged under New York State laws.

If you are a student who feels you are being attacked online by your peers, please report it to your school; the State passed the Dignity for All Students Act in 2010 to protect public elementary and secondary school students from harassment. In 2014, Albany Local Law F was made official; this law makes using electronic communication to emotionally harm a minor a punishable offense that can result in jail time and a fine.  If you are an adult and feel that you are being attacked or endangered by internet harassment, know that legal recourse is an option.

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