School bullying is nothing new. But now, with the rise of social media and smartphones, what used to stop at the school gate now comes home to many children. And the law struggles to keep up with the modern threats.
Warning: This article contains references to suicide and self-harm. Everywhere in Europe, minors can get free help by calling 116 111. Other resources are available here. In the UK, adults can call 116 123 or text “SHOUT” to 85258.
Tragic examples of teen bullying regularly make headlines. In May 2023, a thirteen-year-old French girl, Lindsay, died by suicide after months of physical and psychological violence at school and online.
A few years back, Irish teenager Nicole Fox experienced the same fate. She was only 21 years old.
Since then, her mother Jackie Fox has been campaigning for cyberbullying to be made a criminal offence.
Named after his late daughter, Coco’s Law was adopted in Ireland in 2021. After speaking with some European lawmakers, Jackie Fox said she was optimistic that it could be implemented further.
no EU-wide legislation
There is no EU-wide anti-online bullying law yet, only European Directives. They have no legal value, and the way member states implement them within their jurisdiction remains up to them.
Without the law available before her suicide in 2018, Jackie Fox said her daughter felt powerless to deal with her bullies, as authorities had no means to prosecute the violence she was perpetrating online .
“Coco was her baby name, her pet name,” Jackie Fox told Euronews.
“I hope Coco’s Law will save lives here in Ireland and in Europe. But it is also about helping victims who may feel too alone to get help, or perhaps self-harming. Because before, they had no proper resources to turn to.”
Other countries have similar pieces of legislation. In France, online bullying is punishable by law since 2014.
Social media platforms are legally responsible and must respond when they are made aware of elements of bullying.
act only after the damage is done
Current legislation in European countries considers cyberbullying to be the first to prosecute perpetrators or to have posts removed by social media moderators.
Hateful online comments were still being posted in the aftermath of the 13-year-old French teen’s death. On Instagram, an explicit account was created: ‘lindsay_est_enfin_morte’ (“Finally, Lindsay died” in English). It has since been disabled.
Lindsey’s family brought charges against Facebook and Instagram, condemning their failures to moderate hateful content before and after their daughter’s suicide.
Euronews contacted Meta, which owns both social networks. A spokesperson was not available for an interview. In a written statement, Meta expressed condolences to Lindsay’s family and said the platform is taking action against content and accounts that go against its rules when it becomes aware of their existence.
Unions wonder whether bullying should actively continue before anything is done to stop it. Social media platforms have the means to respond before other users report problematic posts, according to Justin Atlan, director of the French anti-bullying association e-Enfence.
Can social media do more?
The principle of the algorithm is actually to target and propose specific content specifically for business purposes based on the preferences of the users.
Atlan told Euronews: “Since we know they may be actively interfering with content, we can expect their legal responsibilities to become more significant, forcing them to target certain content that To do what we consider dangerous.”
Some already implemented technologies allow the Platform to target content that was previously reported by Users and removed by the Platform in the first place.
On its page dedicated to the prevention of bullying, Meta states: “We use preventive photo-matching techniques.
“If someone tries to share the image after it has been reported to us and removed, we will alert them that it violates our policies.
“We also block the re-sharing attempt and may disable the account.”