Israel’s Education Ministry has aimed new directives at preventing online bullying, requiring schools to take action in response to certain after-school behaviors involving their students.
Students who post offensive content must be suspended and schools must work with psychologists to prepare an intervention plan. The principal has the right to expel the student if they believe it is the correct course of action. Schools must inform parents of social network problems, but cannot give information that would identify who is involved. The students’ graduation certificates will record their misconduct.
If students post photos or videos with nudity and/or sexual acts, schools are obligated to report it to the police even if they are consensual, and provide the student and their parents with counseling.
Teachers are forbidden from going through a student’s personal items, including electronics, and must defer to the principal. The regulations also allow teachers and staff to deal with cell phone use via punishment and parental involvement.
Principals may also deal with events outside of school, like parties at which students are likely to drink alcohol.
The principle behind these new policies, writes Yarden Skop of Haaretz, is that physical and online interactions are inseparable. A ministry official said:
So when the principal and school staff receive information about an irregular incident outside the school that is associated with the school– for example, an incident on social networks– they must handle the matter together with the parents.
Statistics on similar bullying issues in the US are revealing, according to i24 News. A recent UCLA study surveyed 1,895 students at 11 LA middle schools and found that 83% of girls and 79% of boys reported being bullied either in school or online. The most common targets are those that are seen as different by their peers: special needs students, LGBTQ students, overweight students, and those perceived as “weak.”
This new directive is in accordance with a governmental focus on the complexities of internet interaction.
MK Revital Swid of the Zionist Union announced a bill that updates the 1965 Defamation Law to include the internet as well. People would be able to file complaints about defamatory statements online and on social media. The law would expand the definition of a “communication tool” to include the internet, in addition to print, radio, and television.
We live in an era where the virtual world and social networks are the primary arena and are meaningful in the lives of adults and adolescents. The online public discourse is violent and abusive. it is our duty to limit cyberbullying and set a line between critical discourse and bullying discourse.
The law must be adapted from the outdated version in order to fit our modern reality. We condemn the phenomenon of the the ‘ugly Israeli,’ though we do not consider that cyberbullying legitimizes verbal violence that shapes the character of the young generation.
47-year-old Swid is a new MK of the 20th Knesset, writes Lidar Grave-Lazi of the Jerusalem Post, and a mother of four.