Alarmed at incidents of bullying and harrassment in the United States that resulted in teenager suicides and ruined lives, Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly passed a law that went into effect last November making the practice a crime.
Although the articles punishing the act of posting a fake profile in Facebook and other tactics do not mention either harassment or cyberbullying specifically, their description in the articles are unmistakable.
The violation of personal data (including posting videos and photos) makes such alteration of another person’s data without that person’s permission punishable by a prison sentence.
Moreover, to impersonate another person on a social medium or any Internet site is unlawful. Should an adult be the victim, the punishment is a standard three to six years in jail but if the victim is a minor, the sentence can reach eight years.
Early in May, the leading Spanish language paper La Nacion identified no fewer than 50 sites cruelly making fun of Costa Rican high school age youths. Lawyer Rodrigo Araya has already filed a criminal complaint, using the new law, La Nacion reported.
Prosecutors are currently examining the suit and Araya hopes that it may set a precedent for future actions. The law makes no distinction between adult and teen perpetrators.
But Judge Carlos Chinchilla, president of the Sala III criminasl court, told La Nacion that he expects judges will take youth into account where teenage are the offenders.
Although proscutor Omar Fernandez told the paper that many teens may be sentenced to non-jail punishments such as social service. “Does that mean they cannot be sentenced to jail? No,” he clarified, “There is the possibility of internment in particular cases.”
Public defender Juan Carlos Salas noted that where the offender is an adult and the victim a minor, the judge will have less wiggle room and that the minimum is four years in prison.
La Nacion reported that Araya’s case is one in which he was contacted by the parents of a high school student. The day of her 17th birthday, she received a nasty shock — she found a Facebook profile with her name and photo, filled with sexual content.
Araya revealed that the shy girl had been bullied from age 14 but it reached its culmination in 2010 with the Facebook entry. Although that was three years ago, she was so distraught by the entry that she missed a year of school she still has to repeat.
A doctored pornographic photo was posted of her along with false quotes and her real phone number appeared on the site, an implied invitation to any pedophile to contact her.
This ground-breaking case also includes dissemination of pornography. Right now, prosecutors in juvenile court are building the case because the bullies are her classmates–or were at the time.
Commentary: This case also contains another facet — the element of sexual corruption implied in the content of the Facebook entry.
So far, no suicides have been registered here or at least reported as the effects of cyberbullying — but if it continues, it’s bound to happen. But another element is even more worrying — what is poisoning the Costa Rican society?
Such malice was unknown when we entered this country — insults were frowned upon and criticism was muted. Granted, no Internet existed in those early years of our residence here but such cruelty was rare.
Those posting insults and harassment against teens are the worst of cowards. But the sources of Internet harassment can be traced. We are pleasantly surprised that the Legislative Assembly, which is usually a decade behind events, has made cyberbullying a crime.