Cyberbullying: What Glee & legal history teach us CLIFF-HANGER GLEE EPISODE this week (February 21, 2012) featured two different plotlines on cyberbullying. In one sequence, a straight teenager is asked to “throw” a competition under threat of embarrassing photos. In the other storyline (shown above) the football player Dave is “outed” as gay. First, teammates threaten him. Then, Dave goes home and discovers hateful posts on his laptop. This results in a suicide attempt. During the Glee show, Daniel Radcliffe appears in an advertisement, promoting a free national hotline for GLBT teens facing crises like this. Guest columnist Joe Grimm teaches journalism at Michigan State University and leads a team of students researching the issue of bullying. Policy-makers nationwide are looking for guidance on how to tackle this problem. You can help by reading this column, then adding a comment below.
This is Joe Grimm’s 4th of five columns …

If you’re not among the more than 10 million Americans tuned to Glee each week, you may be wondering why bullying and cyberbullying suddenly are such a big deal. (As you’ll see in the images and caption at right, Glee’s dramatic new episode this week revolved around the cyberbullying of two characters.)

While millions of Americans understand the urgency surrounding this issue—millions more are skeptical. Earlier this year, for example, a professor asked me if there’s anything new that our MSU student journalists could report on bullying since somebody won an award for writing about it 15 years ago.

Consider some milestones in these years:

1999: Two students kill 13 others and themselves at Columbine High School. Some say they had been bullied or were outcasts. That same year, Georgia becomes the first state to pass an anti-bullying law for schools.
Two new words are coined. “Bullycide: Death at Playtime” is the title of a book published in the United Kingdom. A Canadian educator invents the word cyberbullying. The United States adopts the Patriot Act, which criminalizes the use of computers to make threats.
Facebook launches.
YouTube launches.
Twitter launches. All three new services are used for the full spectrum of social relationships, bullying included.
Georgia updates and expands the original school anti-bullying law.
Forty-eight states have school anti-bullying laws and are adopting laws against cyberbullying. Efforts are underway to classify some forms of bullying as violations of federal civil rights laws. The White House and U.S. departments of education and health and human services hold a national conference on bullying.
Google lists more than 4 million webpages that reference cyberbullying. Efforts to draft new policies are in high gear. Public awareness is fueled by major attention in popular media from TIME magazine to Glee.

Bullying has changed, both in its methods and consequences for all of us.

How do you interpret this timeline?

Have you experienced a form of bullying?

What happened? How did you deal with it?

AND CLICK ON the “Now You Can Find Us on Facebook”
link in the right-hand column.

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue.

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