A Washington State court sentenced a 12-year-old girl to six months probation for online bullying. The girl was found guilty of cyber-stalking a classmate and using her friend’s password to access her Facebook account. She then posted offensive photos of the girl, including one with the caption, “I’m a slut,” and sent sexually explicit messages to some of the girl’s Facebook friends. Another defendant, aged only 11, will be tried in juvenile court.
The case confirms several findings about cyber-bullying, which is a growing phenomenon among young people. Over 50 percent of all adolescents have not only been the victims of cyber-bullying. The same number is said to be the perpetrators. All three people involved in the case are girls, and studies have found that girls are more likely to engage in cyber-bullying than boys.
The case also raises questions about the minimum age of people on facebook. The site complies with COPPA rules, and requires members to be at least 13 years old to get an account. On the other hand, the accused was just 12 and her alleged accomplice was only 11. Their victim, Leslie Cote, was 12, which also makes her ineligible for a Facebook account. While the 12-year-old was charged with cyber-trespassing for using her classmate’s password to access the site, it raises the question of whether Cote herself was trespassing for simply being on the site. Though she would have gotten in trouble for sneaking in to an R-rated movie, there seems to be no consequence for joining Facebook, even though she is similarly underage.
Tara Cote, Leslie Cote’s mother, told the Seattle Times, “I feel that they deserve to be punished and they were not.” She even asked the court to ban the accused from all social networking sites for the time of her probation. The judge did not, but did he need to? Regardless of what she did, neither she nor Cote should be on Facebook at all. It’s now up to Facebook to ensure that they aren’t.