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Cyberbullying Bill Opposed by City's Human Rights Commission

By DNAinfo Staff on May 9, 2011 7:52pm  | Updated on May 10, 2011 7:07am

Councilman Lewis Fidler, center, and other city officials hear testimony on a cyberbullying bill.
Councilman Lewis Fidler, center, and other city officials hear testimony on a cyberbullying bill.
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DNAinfo/Meghan Keneally

By Meghan Keneally

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — The city's Human Rights Commission came out Monday against a bill mandating public education on cyberbullying.

An official with the agency told a City Council hearing that the law was unnecessary since it already has an active schedule of public presentations and training sessions that address cyberbullying as well as other bias and harassment issues.

"To be effective in reaching the targets of our educational programs, the commission must be able to adapt quickly," Lee Hudson, the commission's deputy commissioner of public affairs, said at the hearing. "That flexibility would be hampered by this proposed legislation."

Hudson went on to say that her agency welcomed suggestions from the Council on how to improve their programs, but they "strongly suggest that this legislation is not the appropriate means for doing so."

Perry and Alyssa Aftab testified at the hearing.
Perry and Alyssa Aftab testified at the hearing.
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DNAinfo/Meghan Keneally

That feeling was echoed in a statement released after the hearing by commission chair Patricia Gatling.

"The commission opposes any form of bullying and looks forward to working with the City Council to formulate effective legislation that is inclusive of all types of bias-related harassment," the statement said.

The bill, sponsored by Brooklyn City Councilman Lewis Fidler, has the support of the majority of the Council.

Fidler was "surprised" by the commission's opposition, but doesn't think it will hurt his bill.

“It seemed king of petty," Fidler said after the hearing. “If I had known that was the way they would testify, I would have spoken to the commissioner and said 'Look, this is silly.' I've been wrong before, but I think that if we get support behind this and move this forward I'd be surprised if they don't get on board."

The Council also heard from representatives from Wired Safety, a cybersafety help group founded in 1995.

The group's executive director, Parry Aftab, spoke along with two teenagers who worked with the group as 'teen angels.' Aftab said 85 percent of the 45,000 middle school children her organization surveyed across the country had been cyberbullied at least once.

A representative from the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center also testified, saying that in 2009 nearly half of New York City LGBT students had experienced a form of electronic bullying.

"The majority of New York City students who were harassed or assaulted in school never reported it to school staff or family members," said Nicole Avallone, the Center's director of youth services.

Aftab and some Council members said social networking sites and other Internet companies needed to be involved in the fight against cyberbullying.

Aftab's second cousin, Alyssa Aftab, 20, was cyberbullied when she was 11. She spoke of how she would get taunting instant messages from the "popular class clown" that continued for weeks. Only after her father got involved did the bullying stop.

"All the bully sees is a computer screen, so the bully can hide behind their computer screen and not see them as a person," Alyssa Aftab explained. “The more laws we have, the better we can protect kids, preteens and teens."