WHEN THREE Newburyport teenagers set up a fake Facebook account in the name of one of their peers and used it to post disparaging remarks, they probably just thought they were having some harmless fun. But now that police have intervened and the trio is set to appear before a juvenile clerk magistrate and possibly face identity theft charges, it’s likely they’ll learn their lesson. And while identity theft charges don’t quite fit here, Newburyport’s police should be applauded for taking aggressive action against cyberbullying when so many others have failed to do so.
Identity theft charges are better suited to those who steal credit cards, but in this case are being invoked because of the law’s inexperience with cyberbullying. As a Newburyport police lieutenant pointed out, there isn’t yet a cyberbullying law on the books in Massachusetts. Several are on the way, however, and they’re long overdue. But given the fact that cyberbullying has led to tragic suicides in Massachusetts and elsewhere, it was worth it for Newburyport’s police department to get slightly creative in this case.
Other communities, too, are taking note. Mayor Menino announced yesterday at a Dorchester middle school that he wants to convene a cyberbullying forum with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to discuss how those sites have failed to prevent the practice. The forum would be part of a larger anti-cyberbullying initiative in Boston.
Nobody wants or expects the Newburyport teens to get any jail time over their cyberbullying. What’s key, though - and what has led to tragedy elsewhere - is that an authority figure quickly stepped in and showed the kids that their acts were damaging and unacceptable. Soon there will be laws that specifically address this, but in the meantime adults everywhere should heed the example set by Newburyport’s police.