Maria Z. Vathis, the 91st president of the Federal Bar Association. Founded in 1920, Association consists of more than...
Andrew Rossow is an Associate Attorney at Gregory M. Gantt Co. LPA where, in addition to their general practice,...
J. Craig Williams is admitted to practice law in Iowa, California, Massachusetts, and Washington. Before attending law school, his...
With the rise of social media over the years, cyberbullying has been a huge problem. Cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. Bullying tweets and Facebook posts, can be powerful and have a huge impact; keyboard warriors find their victims and oftentimes their victims cannot escape.
But within the legal profession, there are efforts to put laws in place and combat cyberbullying through a variety of ways. On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams joins attorney Maria Z. Vathis, the 91st president of the Federal Bar Association, and returning guest and internet attorney Andrew Rossow to discuss cyberbullying, the impact on victims, and the efforts by the legal profession to prevent cyberbullying.
Attorney Maria Z. Vathis is the 91st president of the Federal Bar Association.
Internet attorney Andrew Rossow brings a unique millennial perspective to the show, as he is also a criminal defense attorney, writer, and adjunct law professor in Dayton, Ohio.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Clio.
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Maria Z. Vathis: One of the concepts that we are focused on in the legal profession is the importance of civility toward one another. And let’s face it, cyberbullying is the exact opposite of this, right? So I think that it’s an issue that needs to be carefully looked into and I think we’re just really as far as the Federal Bar Association goes, just now starting to really look into what we can do.
Andrew Rossow: Because at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself online. There’s so much information out there that people unfortunately like to use that against you.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer with J. Craig Williams and Robert Ambrogi, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
J. Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I am Craig Williams coming to you from a sunny and windy Southern California. I write a legal blog named ‘May it Please the Court’ and have two books out titled ‘How to Get Sued’ and ‘The Sled’.
As our listeners know, my co-host Bob Ambrogi recently retired from Lawyer 2 Lawyer and we are in search of guest co-hosts, who can join us to discuss current legal topics. If you are an attorney, and you are interested, please feel free to reach out to our producer Kate Nutting and you can reach her via email at [email protected].
And also before we introduce today’s topic, we would like to thank our sponsor Clio.
Now, with the rise of social media over the years, cyberbullying has become a huge problem. Cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to bully a person typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature, bullying tweets and Facebook posts can be powerful and have a huge impact.
Keyboard warriors find their victims and oftentimes their victims cannot escape. And it’s led to a whole new genre of words including things like doxing. But here, within the legal profession there are efforts to put laws in place and combat cyberbullying through a variety of ways.
Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re going to discuss cyberbullying, the impact on victims and efforts by the legal profession to prevent cyberbullying. To do that, we’ve got a great lineup of guests for you today. Here to discuss today’s topic is Maria Vathis, she is the 91st President of the Federal Bar Association, which was founded in 1920.
The Association consists of more than 20,000 federal lawyers including 1,500 federal judges, who work together to promote the sound administration of justice, quality and the independence of the judiciary. Well welcome to our show, Maria.
Maria Z. Vathis: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
J. Craig Williams: And our next guest is a returning guest and he’s also an Internet Attorney Andrew Rossow. Drew brings with him a unique millennial perspective to the show and he is also a criminal defense attorney, writer and adjunct law professor in Dayton, Ohio.
Drew’s passion for advocating for good digital citizenship has led him into fighting for those who are victimized by social media crimes, as well as educating and spreading awareness about the growth of new technologies and digital monies. Welcome to the show, Drew.
Andrew Rossow: Thank you so much Craig for having me back. It’s good to be here.
J. Craig Williams: Great. And Drew let me give you the first question. I kind of wanted to give an overview from you about what cyberbullying consists of, how it affects victims, what causes it, and maybe even some comments about what’s going on recently.
Andrew Rossow: Sure. And Craig, it’s a good question, it’s an evolving question. Cyberbullying is the use of any form of intimidation, harassment or targeted commenting through the use of technology. And it’s typically done at the expense of another individual and as we’ve seen over the years, it’s evolved.
It used to be solely done by a telephone or stricken within a classroom and as we’ve seen with technology that’s no longer the case. It’s not just in the classroom, it’s now online. It needs a classroom, it comes home with us, it’s on social media, it’s online, it’s in the press, it’s on TV, it’s everywhere. And it’s become a major problem and I think today what people need to know is how to — not even prevent it, but how to stay away from it. How to stand up against it, because it’s something that really can harm another person especially from a younger age.
J. Craig Williams: Well Maria, you as President of the Federal Bar Association this I think is one of the things that you’ve undertaken and tell us about what your plans are during your presidency?
Maria Z. Vathis: Sure. So the Federal Bar Association, as some listeners may know, is committed to providing guidance and opportunities to the youth in the nation and we do this through our Annual Community Outreach Project every April. And we also have a Civics Awareness Initiative that involves the National Essay Contest.
And right now, we are looking into whether the essay contest topics can relate to cyberbullying. So I’m hoping that we can raise awareness throughout the nation about cyberbullying and its negative impacts through this essay contest.
J. Craig Williams: So Drew, how is cyberbullying to be viewed by the public? I mean is it one of those situations that it is in the eyes of the beholder. Our First Lady Melania Trump has said that she is the most bullied person in America. Did we look at it from the standpoint of the person who’s being cyberbullied or is there a numerical measure that you get a particular amount of it over a particular length of time that it becomes cyberbullying?
How do we individually view this and what’s the law framework behind it?
Andrew Rossow: That’s a good question and that’s a very difficult question too to answer. But break it down for you. Yes, it is in the eyes of the beholder, but at the same time, there really is no universal standard on which to measure whether or not someone is being cyberbullied or not.
I think the premise of this repeated conduct online whether it’s targeted messaging, through tweets, through Facebook messages, through text messages, it’s that repeated harassment, that annoyance and every state views it a little differently. Most states have their own version of a cyberbullying law or statute.
And it started many, many years ago. I believe Monica Lewinsky was a prime example of what cyberbullying was and that was with dial-up internet, and it’s the mere fact that information comes 07:25 very quickly across a number of different sources. And I think with the example you pointed out with our First Lady, I think she’s in a difficult position.
And whether one person believes one thing or the other person believes another thing, I think whenever somebody is in the public spotlight, there are those who believe that they welcome that behavior and is that true, is that warranted; in my opinion, it’s not. But to many, that may be a different case.
And I think having these initiatives, especially with what Maria is talking about with the Federal Bar and having these ideals that encourage people to come out and speak out against that, is the best way to start addressing this and especially encouraging the legislature to enact even stricter laws or even more narrowly tailored laws.
J. Craig Williams: Maria, let’s take a look at that. What kind of concrete steps is the Federal Bar recommending to deal with cyberbullying when it occurs and where are we on putting some type of legal framework into place?
Maria Z. Vathis: Well, I think that that’s something that we’re just starting to look into now. As you know, one of the concepts that we all focus on in the legal profession is the importance of civility toward one another. And let’s face it, cyber bullying is the exact opposite of this, right.
So I think that it’s an issue that needs to be carefully looked into and I think — we’re just really, as far as the Federal Bar Association goes, just now starting to really look into what we can do.
J. Craig Williams: Drew, are there any kind of real life stories other than some of the obvious ones that you mentioned, Monica Lewinsky and we’ve seen Christine Ford or the reports of her death threats to her, we’ve heard from Melania Trump. But what about the regular everyday Joe and Jane, the people that are not as well known or not celebrities, what kind of cyberbullying are they undergoing?
Andrew Rossow: Sure. And again, it’s something you don’t hear about and I’m sure and it does, it happens every day, from the younger demographic, it’s in school, it’s in college, it’s a form of digital hazing, digital abuse, it’s all over and the problem is, is people don’t always report it.
So people being legislators, authorities, figures in a position to do something about it, they aren’t in the know for the most part. And I think a big part of it is especially from our generation, my millennial generations, we think we can handle it.
We think that A, it’s not a big deal or B, when it is a big deal, we do something about it but when we do something about it, it may not always be the most appropriate response. And unfortunately, we’ve seen stories over the news on people lashing out or acting out in ways that are extremely violent and not productive to the space. And I think when it comes to the everyday Joe, this issue needs to be brought to light in a way to where an average citizen or an average person can really relate and feel connected to somebody who can help them.
But it’s kind of that matter of fear, no different than anything from a domestic violence case in the court system.
J. Craig Williams: So how does a person deal with it? Do you turn your phone off, you stick your head in the sand and don’t get on a computer or turn this over to the police and if you do, is there really a way to be able to find these people that are bullying you online?
Andrew Rossow: The first thing that I tell clients in my engagements and interactions with people across the country, who have either been in this position or even celebrities who have been bully themselves when they speak out is you can’t take it personally. And it’s very difficult to accept that and it’s not personal.
And that’s part of being human, we’re our own worst critics. And I think when a person can accept and know that it’s not personal that it’s not them, that’s the first step. The second step is knowing when to walk away. And I think again that’s another reaction that is just — it’s easy to say but difficult to implement and I think in this case knowing when to walk away can make all the difference because you have your emotions in control.
People are very quick to react with emotions. There’s not a lot of logic going on, and I think when you’re able to recognize and take a step back and say hey listen, this isn’t me, this is about the other person, I’m not going to let this person take over my feelings, my emotions, my actions that opens up a whole new world to say okay, what can I then do about it.
Do I save these messages, can I take it to the police, absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and it’s building a paper trail for yourself because at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself online. There’s so much information out there that people unfortunately like to use that against you.
J. Craig Williams: Maria, you’ve mentioned in a prior answer that lawyers have an obligation of civility and certainly it’s in the model rules as well as practically every state’s rules and local courts and everywhere, it can be an issue, but what the lawyers do and that constitutes cyberbullying, when does it start to cross the line and if it does cross the line, how do we address it?
Maria Z. Vathis: Well, I don’t know that it’s just specific to lawyers. I think that it’s a problem that affects so many different people. I mean really probably every demographic in the nation could be affected by it and it could be the victim, could be any age, the person doing the cyberbullying can be any age and I think that I have to echo what Drew said on this.
I think it’s really important to remember that the person doing the cyberbullying obviously has the problem. I mean they’re the person who is reacting inappropriately, reacting emotionally, being cruel and usually, it’s because they are suffering themselves. And I think as an adult, as lawyers, a lot of times we’ve got the life experience and the sophistication to come to that conclusion.
I worry about the youth of the nation that just is probably too young to have that sort of insight. So I think it’s important for lawyers to try to spread the word and since our profession does have this concept of civility, I think it’s appropriate for us to be doing that. I think helping the community in those ways is really important.
J. Craig Williams: Great thank you. And before we move on to our next segment, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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J. Craig Williams: And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer. I’m Craig Williams and we are joined by Maria Vathis, the 91st President of the Federal Bar Association and a returning guest and an Internet Attorney Drew Rossow.
Now Drew, we were talking about the effect of cyberbullying on young people and certainly we’ve seen the horror stories in the news about elementary school children who now have phones that are now bullied as you mentioned mercilessly over their phones that have committed suicide.
What can parents do to recognize when this happens, what steps are they supposed to take with their child and where do you go for that? Obviously, the police but can you go to the school and can you go to the bullying children’s parents?
Andrew Rossow: Absolutely Craig. And as you said, of course, the police, those types of authorities are always available, but it starts with — and I’m not a parent yet, one day I would — hopefully I’ll have that opportunity, but as a parent it’s important to recognize how your child is behaving, how are they coming back from school, are they acting out, if they’re acting out, why are they acting out.
And just being observant and then saying okay, well what has changed in that atmosphere, what in the environment has changed in timing with my child, with this person and then from there, of course, go to the school, go to the principal, go to the counselors, because if the school doesn’t know, how else is this supposed to be addressed at school.
Parents weren’t always there, and these officials and these authorities are in the proper position to be able to do something about it, and that could make all the difference and I think that’s one of the biggest issues is that when the principal, when the schools, when the proper people do find out, it’s too late.
And I think building like I said earlier, building this paper trail off saying okay, let’s go to the school collectively, let’s take the police report, then let’s do talk to the other parents children, and it’s a case-by-case scenario, but it never hurts to start at where the incident is occurring.
J. Craig Williams: Yeah, Maria there have been some parents and some child advocates that have recommended not giving phones to children of a certain age and there are other, an equal number I think of child advocates, who say that given the frequency of school shootings or at least the publicized frequency of it that rampant as it is, but given that type of situation, children are in the need of phones. So where do we draw the line? What kind of recommendations do you think are out there to give parents some guidance on that?
Maria Z. Vathis: That is a really difficult question and I think there are so many different ways to look at this and different perspectives. I don’t think it’s going to be very easy to go back in time and alleviate phones, I think it’s just kind of become a really — we all have them, right, it’s part of life. I just don’t see us going backwards. So unfortunately, I’m not sure that that would be a viable solution.
I guess I would hope that perhaps just spreading awareness of what the impact of — negative impact of cyberbullying can be might help change the way people are interacting with each other and in particularly, children and teenagers.
J. Craig Williams: Drew, Maria has mentioned how big of an effect this is, what do we do to get this turned around? Who do we begin, which Maria is suggesting that lawyers, the civility is a place starting place, but how can we get celebrities, how can we get politicians on board. I mean we’ve got some pretty bad examples out there?
Andrew Rossow: Sure, and Craig, just to give you kind of a personal example, I myself over the past year and a half started my own online social media movement that the fundamental purpose is to bring the Hollywood, the public figures and those in a legal capacity together closer with their fans, their constituents, with their clients and what I’ve had them do is record a message directly speaking out to their fans, sharing a personal story either something or some event where they’ve been bullied and how they’ve responded and basically saying look, you’re not alone, you support our music, you support our movies, you’ve hired us to represent you, but do you really know what that support means, what that belief means. Join us, connect with us. Do what’s right, reach out to us.
So whether it’s my movement or other things out there, I think it starts with bringing back the respect and this — I don’t say holier-than-now, but this chair on which these artists, musicians and political figures sit, that we can look to them as role models. And as you said, we don’t have the best examples in place unfortunately, but that’s not a permanent thing and that’s not something that is set in stone.
There’s a senator Robert Zirkin out of Maryland that’s pushing for legislation for Grace’s Law, for Grace McComas, and her mother, and it’s very difficult to get this legislation through because I still don’t think to an extent that everyone really understands what this is about.
But I think the more public figures, the more people you can bring on board for this cause, the easier will be overtime to recognize that this really is an issue that affects not just young students but people everywhere; journalists, lawyers, everybody.
J. Craig Williams: Well Maria, we’ve seen some of the late-night TV shows that have segments called Mean Tweets where the celebrities are invited to come on the television and read mean tweets that were sent to them and read them out loud. Is it really the isolation as we talked about in the beginning keyboard warrior that leads to this kind of thing?
Is it, where’s the root of this? I mean if you had to say what you said in a tweet, a mean tweet to someone to their face, would it be as acceptable to say it in this day and age or have we just as a society become that mean all the way around?
Maria Z. Vathis: Well, sadly I would say that it somehow has become I think a little more common in society to be less caring, to be more abrupt and I think it’s natural then that some people might take it farther and say hurtful things. But I don’t think that face-to-face interaction would lead to some of the comments that we see on social media.
I think someone might think twice if you see the person’s expression, body language. I think a lot of times people behind a computer they’re not looking at the human, they’re just sort of responding and they think they’re being funny or witty and it’s actually really hurtful, but I firmly believe that when someone is being that mean, it’s probably because they have their own issues and it’s making them react in a negative way and I think that what Drew has done by reaching out to celebrities to raise awareness is such an important first step.
I really commend him for doing that and I think the more people get positive messages and think about what they’re saying, what they’re putting out on social media, how it never goes away, it’s out there indefinitely once it’s posted. I think that’s really the change that we need to see. And it’s wonderful that Drew cares and has started this trend.
J. Craig Williams: And Drew, how do we draw a line on a subjective issue? I mean obviously on one end you’ve got death threats, then there’s no question that that’s cyberbullying, but on the other end or maybe somewhere in the middle, you’ve got sarcasm and wit and then maybe on the far side something that’s just is not nice, it just ouch, that hurt a little bit, because it was perhaps true but observed in a different fashion than you might be used to hearing.
So probably lack of tact, so between that lack of tact and a death threat, where do you draw the line as to what constitute cyberbullying? How do we regulate that?
Andrew Rossow: That’s a great question. I want to also thank Maria for her kind words, I appreciate that. It’s hard to draw the line. I think as a society and I’m not trying to come off as negative but realistic, and I think we as a society have become a little more fragile and sensitive than we ought to be or should be and we’re in a day and age unfortunately where no matter what somebody says, somebody is going to get hurt, somebody is going to be offended, somebody is not going to like it.
And I think this idea of trying to please everybody by staying locked up in a house or being this ideal model citizen if not realistic, but there are still ways to be proactive and positive. And I think to answer your question, it’s going to be a case-by-case basis and sarcasm is sarcasm, joking is joking, and I think when it comes down to what people do understand that distinction.
I think it comes into effect where there are two, may be more than two people could have never met or that may have met once or twice, they don’t really know each other, they don’t know what joking is like, they don’t understand the personality traits or how to determine sarcasm that makes that question very hard to answer, and especially with smartphones and being on a keyboard, it’s very hard to extract emotion out of it. It’s just not possible and that’s the cause of a lot of arguments, disagreements, misunderstandings and miscommunication among couples, friends, and everybody.
So I think it’s a case-by-case basis and unfortunately, with the court system we’ll start to see a broad spectrum of what is and is not considered to be cyberbullying in a sense.
But again, it’s unfortunately going to have to take those turns to create these boundaries and these extremes.
J. Craig Williams: And Maria as we begin to address these issues in the courts, obviously we have tort laws, and libel and slander and defamation in the realm of that, are we going to be seeing a flood of these things as we move forward?
Maria Z. Vathis: Yeah, I don’t know because some of this would probably be protected speech under the First Amendment, right, so I think that that’s another issue is whether there’s really going to be — what is really a cause of action, that’s the question that I still have in my mind.
So I think we’re going to have to just see what the courts have to say about that because I think an opinion is probably going to be protected, right, but I think when it’s causing harm to people that’s something that we need to revisit and evaluate. So I look to the courts for that guidance.
J. Craig Williams: It sounds like we may need to look to the legislature for that guidance because there’s a lot of unanswered questions here. Well, we just about reached the end of our program. Drew, I want to turn it over to you first to sum up and give your contact information and certainly I’d like you to talk about, more about your CyberSmile Foundation, and #CYBERBYTE and the news series that you’ve got so that our listeners can use those as resources.
Andrew Rossow: Absolutely and Craig, thank you so much for having me back. It’s a pleasure and I think these programs really do make a difference to those listening out there.
In terms of the initiative that I have it’s called the #CYBERBYTE Challenge, it’s cyberbyte and what that movement does is it brings Hollywood actors, actresses, musicians and public figures including legislators together to their constituents, to their fans in a recorded video, speaking out to those that follow them and saying hey, look you’re not alone, this has happened to me or it’s happened to somebody I know and it’s influenced this song or why I chose to do this movie.
And it really does bring people together and I do encourage people to either join it or find something that they can feel as if they’re making a difference and with the CyberSmile Foundation, it’s a wonderful nonprofit out of the UK, and what we do is we receive letters from all over the world, from kids in schools who are too afraid to tell their family what’s going on or their friends, asking for help, asking for a resource, and what the CyberSmile Foundation does is we connect them with the proper resources, we talk with them and we are kind of their guide along the way making sure that they’re not alone in this.
So I do encourage people to look into them and there is plenty of organizations out there that are aimed at this. But for those who want to contact me, my email is [email protected] and you can find me on Facebook @drossowlaw.
J. Craig Williams: Great. It’s Rossow, right?
Andrew Rossow: That is correct.
J. Craig Williams: Great. And Maria, let’s turn it over to you then for your final thoughts and perhaps how our listeners can be involved with the Federal Bar Association on this topic.
Maria Z. Vathis: Thank you, Craig. And I just want to say we’re very interested in continuing to bring focus to this topic. Drew, if we can help with CyberSmile please let us know. To find out more about the Federal Bar Association or to join, please visit www.fedbar.org. Please also watch for our National Civics Essay Contest, which is going to be open to high schoolers around the nation. There will be information out on that in the next few weeks that we courage high schoolers to apply, and write a piece for our contest.
If you want to reach me personally, I am at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. You can Google that or you can email me at [email protected].
J. Craig Williams: Great. And that brings us to the end of our show. If you like what you have heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts. You can also visit us at legaltalknetwork.com, where you can leave a comment on today’s show and sign up for our newsletter.
I am Craig Williams. Thanks for listening. Join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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