The Cyber-Samaritans: Exploring Criminal Liability for the “Innocent” Bystanders of Cyberbullying

Benzmiller, Heather | January 1, 2013

In recent years, the media have consistently documented the stories of teens who committed suicide or otherwise suffered severe physical and psychological harm following periods of vitriolic cyberbullying. While legislators and scholars have proposed several solutions to combat cyberbullying, none have drawn on the work of social psychologists to address the role that witnesses play in escalating bullying. This Note proposes that the witnesses of cyberbullying be held liable under a “Bad Samaritan” law for failing to report the most severe forms of bullying where the witness reasonably believes the victim will suffer physical harm. Drawing on the justifications for classic Samaritan laws in both civil and common law jurisdictions, the Note suggests that a wellpublicized duty to report cyberbullying would undermine teens’ general reluctance to report such abuse and provide the means for adults to intervene to assist victims. Cyberbullying harms countless children, both physically and emotionally; a complete response to the problem must hold responsible not only the bully, but also the bystanders who, through their silence, contribute to the bully’s power and the victim’s isolation.