An anti-bullying charity has welcomed a landmark ruling on cyberbullying handed down by a court in Brighton.
A 17-year-old was convicted of harassment after creating a fake profile on the social networking site Bebo and driving his former friend to attempt suicide by luring him into an online relationship and then telling friends and teachers intimate details of their online conversations.
The 16-year-old victim, from Brighton, East Sussex, swallowed 60 painkillers.
Brighton Youth Court was told the victim’s life was saved by his mother, who took him to hospital.
The cyberbully, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty last month to harassment, and apologised in court on Monday to the victim.
He was given a 12-month referral order and told to pay his victim £250. The court also confiscated the his laptop.
Niall Cowley of anti-bullying charity Beat Bullying told PinkNews.co.uk:
“This is a significant legal landmark. There is an incorrect perception that real world laws do not apply online, and that harassment, intimidation and threatening behaviour will go unpunished.
“Well let this be a cautionary tale to would-be cyberbullies.
“The truth is, when you bully online, you are more likely to be caught because of your digital fingerprint.
“This young man’s courage to take this case to court could well be the single greatest step in making online social networking safer for other young people. We have immense respect for him.”
The BBC reported yesterday that the court heard the pair fell out after the victim revealed secrets and told lies about the defendant.
The youth then set up the Bebo profile of the fake character and lured his former friend into a cyber relationship where explicit messages were exchanged.
He was found out when he accidentally sent the victim an e-mail purporting to be from the fake character from his own address.
“The victim was then told by the defendant that not only had he made up the identity but he had been talking to their friends and others around him, including his teachers,” said Suzanne Sorros, prosecuting.
“Effectively he was told that all those people were colluding against him and laughing at him.
“What caused specific distress was that this included his teachers.”
Chair of the bench, Tim Chittleburgh, said he hoped the case would send a message to other youngsters.
“This was a piece of planned and sustained harassment in public,” he said.
“You involved or at least intimated that teachers were aware, which was vicious.”