TAYLOR – Borough residents had the chance to learn about cyberbullying and Internet harassment Wednesday evening through a presentation by Lackawanna County Deputy District Attorney Frank Castellano.
Castellano spoke before members and guests of the Taylor Neighborhood Crime Watch, a citizens’ group in Taylor. Presentations like the one given Wednesday are happening throughout Lackawanna County.
“We spend a lot of time in schools and a lot of time in communities and spend a lot of time talking to the people about issues that are important to us because a community is really a collaborative effort between law enforcement, municipal government, school districts, and concerned citizens,” Castellano said.
The advent of the Internet and social media sites has taken bullying to a very different level.
“Bullying and harassment have been going on forever; it is not a new thing. It has been going on since we all were children but it happened in a different form,” Castellano said.
“Now, with the advent of technology, this idea of being able to bully or harass somebody has taken on a whole new meaning because it is easier. You don’t really need a lot of guts to communicate something from the privacy of your own home to somebody that you wouldn’t have the gumption to say face-to-face.”
Children as young as those in third grade now have their own computers and cell phones but, as Castellano explained, they may not necessarily understand the power of their words. Cyberbullying and Internet harassment are not protected under the First Amendment, he said.
“There is a real difference here between First Amendment free speech and a crime. I don’t think a lot of kids understand that and, unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of adults understand that, either,” he said. “We all know that as citizens of the United States and as citizens of Pennsylvania we have First Amendment freedoms….We still have the freedom to express ourselves.
“That is not what we are talking about in these kinds of cases,” he continued. “Now we have those words, phrases, and comments that cross the line and are no longer protected by the First Amendment but they are now crimes because they are threatening or they are harassing or they, in some way, cause the receiver of the message to feel that they are in danger.”
The district attorney’s office steps into a situation once the recipient of the messages begins to perceive danger.
“If you say to someone, text it, type it, e-mail, it or post it, “I’m going to kill you”, that is not protected by the First Amendment. That is the crime of a terroristic threat,” he said. “If the person who received that message truly feels harassed or threatened by it, then law enforcement considers it a crime.”
Castellano suggested that parents review e-mails and text messages and to learn who their children are becoming friends with on their social networks.
“If you are a parent, be an intrusive parent,” he said. “There is no definition of a small-town schoolhouse anymore. Our kids have access to kids and people all over the world.”
For more information on the Taylor Neighborhood Crime Watch, e-mail email@example.com or call (570) 614-9863.