Education

Cyberbullying can be a problem at colleges like UC Merced. A new law seeks to fix that.

Bullying is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. Yesterday’s bullies weren’t disguised as harassing comments on Instagram or viewers on a secret livestream.

A new law, Senate Bill 366, is the first in California to address cyberbullying in higher education, according to its author, Sen. Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar. Cyberbullying is commonly defined as the act of harassing an individual on the internet through social media, phone calls or text messages.

The new law requires the California State University system to provide educational and preventive information about cyberbullying during orientation. It requests the same from the University of California system.

Chang got the idea for the bill from stories of parents and friends who have been victims of cyberbullying. Chang named Twitter and Facebook as two of the most prominent websites for cyberbullying.

“One story that comes to mind is the 18-year-old Rutgers University freshmen that jumped off the George Washington bridge a few years ago. His roommate and another student set up a secret webcam and caught him kissing another male in his dorm room. He livestreamed the two of them on Twitter,” said Chang.

She compared this and other stories she’s heard to how bullying was when she was a kid.

“Back in the day when you were being bullied kids just did it at school, but now with social media, there’s a higher impact,” said Chang.

According to Chang’s office, 48.6% of LGBTQ students have experienced cyberbullying at least once. Cyberbullying can cause clinical depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug use and suicide.

UC Merced junior Kimberly Parra said social media plays a large part in how students are often targeted or harassed.

“Social media has been very popular in my generation. It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t been bullied or received some type of hate online,” said Parra.

UC Merced sophomore Iskally Huerta said cyberbullying is so common because it’s so easy to do. “It’s so easy to target people online. Like to hiding behind a screen makes people act in cruel and fearless ways that is not often seen in real life,” said Huerta.

Apps like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat all contribute to cyberbullying but anonymous apps are a steady driving force behind bullying for both high school and college students.

“These platforms like ask.fm and Snapchat’s yolo where you could leave a comment without revealing your identity makes it easy to pretend to be someone else on any social media and just be really cruel to others,” said Huerta.

UC Merced Police Administrative Assistant Crystal Fontes said the university has a cybersecurity program for students through its IT program.

Huerta said she was not aware of the cybersecurity program but is glad “students are being listened to and protected.”

Huerta said “preventing cyberbullying is pretty much impossible,” but Senator Chang said she wanted to remind students there are resources available to victims and those who witness it.

Chang said adding information about cyberbullying to a student’s orientation program would remind them that cyberbullying should be taken seriously and could potentially be a crime. It provides students with empowering information that could protect them, she said.

“During the orientation, they should go over what cyberbullying is and possibly share stories. Toward the end of they should be given a list of people they can contact and resources that are available to them,” she said.

This story is part of a collaborative project between McClatchy and seniors in the journalism program at Sacramento State University. For more information about the program, or to send a message, visit facebook.com/sacstatejournalism.

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