September 30, 2009
Harvard Law School Professor John Palfrey ’01 will testify before the House subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security today regarding two pieces of legislation designed to address cyberbullying and other online safety issues for children. A live webcast of the testimony will be available beginning at 3 p.m.
In his written testimony, Palfrey urged lawmakers to consider the problem of bullying more broadly and to not solely blame new technologies for an increase in online bullying.
“First, overwhelmingly, most of the ways in which young people use digital technologies are positive,” Palfrey said. “Most young people, at least in the United States, do not distinguish between their ‘online’ and ‘offline’ lives. As a result, many of the good things that have gone on offline also happen, in one form or another, online; so, too, do many of the bad things that happen in everyday life play out also online. We should fundamentally be talking about ‘bullying,’ not ‘cyber-bullying.’”
Palfrey went on to note that overall, it is not clear that bullying is on the rise. It could be that bullying is not increasing, but that instead, it is shifting venues – from offline to online.
Since the problem of cyberbullying is multi-faceted and is both a problem online and offline, Palfrey said there is no single solution. He argued for educational programs for children, parents, teachers, administrators, and social workers.
Palfrey also discussed adopting new laws to address online safety issues. In thinking about new legislation, he argued strongly against cyber-specific laws that “criminalize” online speech. “The rules should, to the greatest extent possible, be the same in the online context as offline,” he said.
Palfrey’s testimony expanded on research conducted by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force last year. The Task Force, which brought together representatives of 29 leading companies, child advocacy groups, and academics, published a study looking at the problems of unwanted contact and access to harmful content online.
The Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law, Palfrey is vice dean of library and information services at HLS and is faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He is the author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.”