Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Bully?

cyberbullying, speech, freedom, court, law

In 2014, Michele Carter told Conrad Roy to reenter a carbon-monoxide-filled car and proceed with his suicide attempt. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter as text messages surfaced, ones sent by her encouraging Roy to end his own life.

Her defense claimed that the texts were a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment: “…verbal conduct can never overcome a person’s willpower to live, and therefore cannot be the cause of suicide…”

The court ruled against her favor, yet a broader debate surrounding Freedom of Speech and its implications for state cyberbullying laws remains unresolved. In compliance with the Child Internet Protection Act, various states have proposed making cyberbullying a criminal offense in order to prevent cyberbullying in school. However, some argue that this infringes upon a student’s First Amendment right, especially if the bullying occurs off-campus during non-school hours.

This past June, the North Carolina Supreme Court repealed its 2009-enacted cyberbullying law after reopening the case of a formerly convicted high school student. The court decided that the law –one prohibiting the use of computers to post (or maliciously encourage others to post) compromising information online– was too broad and violated the Freedom of Speech. Courts are now using a “disruption test” to assess the magnitude of cyberbullying accusations, measuring the extent that a student’s actions impacted the school environment.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Essentially, lawmakers are struggling to identify 1) when “free speech” becomes a threat to someone else’s life and 2) at what point can lawful action be taken. Texas Senator José Menéndez proposed new legislation called “David’s Law”, named after a victim of cyberbullying who later committed suicide. Menéndez claims cyberbullying is distinct from free speech and therefore should be criminalized, citing, “The Supreme Court has ruled our right to free speech is regulated by boundaries. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater… can’t make threats against someone’s life and defend it as free speech.”

17 states have criminalized cyberbullying as part of their cyberbullying prevention initiatives. In the meantime, national organizations are working ceaselessly to reduce the frequency of cyberbullying by educating students about proper online behavior. 

The freedom of speech does not justify bullying. Find out more about the movement against cyberbullying here.

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The 4 Main Types of Cyberbullying Across the Country

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16% of kids have cyberbullied their peer(s), reports a recent Cyberbullying Research Center study. More often than not, these bullies are motivated by their own anger and frustration. Technology provides refuge and anonymity for such behavior, empowering kids to do and say things they would otherwise not do in person.

From our analysis of 500K social media posts, we found that the majority of aggressive online posts could be broken into the four main categories listed below in order from most frequent to least frequent:

1. Namecalling/Harassment

  • “you’re a f***ing rat close yo mouth and your legs no disrespect tho.”
  • “yea you should hate yourself. as you f***ing should stupid hoe.”

2. Relationship Drama

  • “funny af how you talk s**t about my best friend right in front of me making it seem like yall wanna talk to me… there’s no need for yall to be talking s**t behind her back.  claiming that you ain’t fake and s**t.. bitch f***ing please. you f***ing snake.”
  • “@—— you can go f**k yourself and leave @—— alone…you obviously are jealous. she’s much nicer and better than your lying fake a**.”
  • “@—— stupid mother f***ing dumb a** b***h why don’t you just go have sex with some girls since you’re “famous”

3. Body Image/Looks

  • “if you’re a whore or look like one and you end up showing your slutty-ness and it winds up on my timeline…i will call you a whore and then unfriend you. with no regrets”
  • “she looks like a f***ing jew to me”

4. Threats

  • “fools gonna get beat today. i tried to warn people about lying, they just don’t want to believe me. ha. don’t f**k around with me…”

We also found that certain characteristics differ geographically across the US: students on the East Coast seem to be far more aggressive and confrontational on social media. Namecalling/Harassment posts occur about 14% more on the East Coast than on the West Coast.

Although the reason for this is unclear, it may be due to the lack of a national cyberbullying law. No federal law directly addresses bullying; legislation was introduced in 2009, but no action has been taken since. However, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (2000) requires schools to 1) monitor their students’ online behavior and 2) outline a plan to educate students on proper online behavior. Thus, each state has created their own laws and preventative measures to discourage bullying and online harassment.

Cyberbullying Laws Across the Country

The majority of West Coast states include cyberbullying in their bullying laws, while many East Coast and Midwest states do not. Georgia, Kentucky, and Nebraska have proposed including cyberbullying measures in their current policies.

State bullying laws, updated January 2016

Includes “cyberbullying” Does not include “cyberbullying”














New Hampshire

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina


Rhode Island
















New Jersey

North Dakota




South Carolina

South Dakota



West Virginia



For more information on cyberbullying laws across the country, the Cyberbullying Research Center released a brief review which compares bullying laws by state.  A more comprehensive explanation of each state’s policy can be found on


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Crying Out for Help in 140 Characters or Less

 “If I die tonight, would anyone cry?”  Amber Cornwell published this post soon before committing suicide in December of 2014.

Social media is the modern-day soliloquy; kids are now more likely to lament emotional distress or seek help via online platforms. Through Machine Learning techniques, we found that Twitter was the overwhelming favorite for kids to vent emotions: 71% of flagged activity* are tweets. However, it is through these same platforms that cyberbullying occurs.

30% of flagged posts* are direct forms of cyberbullying. Interestingly, ⅓ of all students have experienced some type of online harassment.  Teens exposed to cyberbullying are 2.4 times more likely to entertain suicidal notions. Certainty of this causal relationship is demonstrated by terms like “cyberbullicide”, as used in an American Public Health Association study.

Social media interactions can provide a look into a teen’s life, yet red flags are largely ignored due to the casual nature of online culture. Mean comments and threats are posted online all the time; this problem has proliferated into a cyberbullying epidemic, one that large social media platforms are struggling to mitigate. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, admitted, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”


Common Sense Media’s “5 Ways to Stop Cyberbullies”. Although this is a great guide for handling cyberbullying, there is a larger issue that still needs to be solved.


Amber was a victim of cyberbullying. So was Thomas Mullaney, and many others who decided to take their own life as a result. To reduce teen suicide and depression, we must eliminate a major root cause: bullying.

This month is National Bullying Prevention Month, a movement to stop bullying and cyberbullying once and for all. To learn more about how to get involved in with your local community’s bullying prevention initiatives, click here.

*Of 500,000 social media posts, 1 in 50 posts were flagged for suspicious behavior related to drugs, profanity, cyberbullying, threats, depression, or suicide.


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October is National Bullying Prevention Month

This year marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. Since 2006, the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center has launched nationwide campaigns to combat bullying during the month of October. In 2010, they introduced plans for cyberbullying prevention. Through community building events and education initiatives, they work to eliminate the notion that bullying is a “rite of passage” that makes kids tougher – as it actually results in devastating consequences such as decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicide.   

In the past, PACER has partnered with companies like Disney and TLC to build upon their national campaign and amplify its message across multiple platforms to different age groups.

“You are Braver, Stronger and Smarter Than You Think” was a public service announcement produced for National Bullying Prevention Month by Disney in 2015.


How to Get Involved

PACER and community partners host events across the country throughout the month of October. “Run, Walk, Roll, Against Bullying” takes place in 12 different cities, and the symbolic “Unity Day” will be held on Wednesday, October 19.

They also provide online resources, including Classroom and Community Toolkits. Teachers and parents are encouraged to utilize these materials to promote conscientious behavior among their students and foster a supportive environment.

Multiple organizations work in tandem to eradicate bullying and its consequences. Stomp Out Bullying, the national anti-bullying and cyberbullying prevention organization, created Blue Shirt Day: World Day of Bullying Prevention which asks communities to stand in solidarity for anti-bullying by wearing blue clothing on the first Monday of each October.


To find out more information on bullying prevention and how you can join the movement, check out the following resources:


Now you can install Securly from a web browser

securly, web, network, self-serve, schools, web filter

We’re not only the leading cloud-based provider of Internet security for K-12 schools, but also the industry’s first self-servable web filter.  “With our self-serve update, Securly is realizing its long-held vision of giving IT Admins a product that can be set up in minutes,” says Paul Katcher, UI developer at Securly.

Since the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, web filtering has been required for schools that seek e-rate funding. Customarily, the industry has been heavily dominated by appliance hardware players.  Their products need to be shipped, painstakingly setup and often end up as bandwidth bottlenecks on K-12 networks that are increasingly turning to bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming media.

By contrast, we have been cloud-based from day one. With no need for a hardware appliance, customers can deploy Securly with a few simple network configuration changes and benefit from functionality such as granular auditing and policies that they are familiar with. In doing so, they are assisted by our award winning support team based in Charlotte.

Setup can be independently completed through a web browser session without ever needing to speak with a sales or support person. With this update, Securly eliminates the complexity of network based web-filters with the simplicity of EdTech tools like Remind and ClassDojo.

We hope self-serve will save IT Admins time and frustration during the back-to-school rush.  For more information, contact

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Introducing “Dr.House” – Our New Debug Tool to Automate Network Troubleshooting

tool, web filter, network, debugThe back-to-school rush is fast approaching, and we have just the tool to ease IT admins and school administrators back into the swing of things…

Meet Dr. House, our new tool that allows customers to certify that their networks are up and running correctly. Dr. House launches a series of automated checks meant to detect the most common network misconfigurations. It performs a variety of tests including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Checks for the presence of a caching server that could be impending filtering.
  • Makes sure that there are no rogue DNS servers without securly DNS configured.
  • Verifies that the Securly certificate is installed.
  • Confirms that all outbound IPs are registered.
  • Ensures that critical Securly services are reachable from the network.


Securly was founded on the premise of a quick deployment – the antithesis to the customary web filter setup experience. While other web filtering products require a physical appliance (that still needs to be shipped and laboriously setup), we have been cloud-based from the start.

In the weeks ahead, we will also become the industry’s first self-servable web filter; setup can be completed through a web browser session. Our own Jayesh Agrawal, a software engineer who was instrumental in implementing this tool, says, “The release of Dr. House is a huge leap forward in automating network misconfiguration detection. We hope that this tool will save customers time and frustration while easing the deployment experience.

For more information, contact


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Can Social Media Save Kids’ Lives?

The following is taken from our new whitepaper Can social media save kids’ lives?. We analyzed over a half million social media posts from over 300 school districts in 2016 to amass the data included in this paper.

social media, cyberbullying, school, suicide, parent

The majority of research centered around cyberbullying & teen emotional distress occurs after the fact, relying on student anecdotes and surveys.  By contrast, we are able to gather information in real time.  Our position as a network-based filter gives us unique access to such data, allowing us to find truths embedded within students’ own social media posts alone.

Our data shows that 30% of all flagged posts are a direct form of cyberbullying. From our previous study, we found that at least ⅓ of all students have been harassed online.  This is a growing problem that parents and schools cannot ignore, especially given its fatal consequences.  

Across the country, teen suicide numbers have soared.  An American Public Health Association study actually coined the term “cyberbullicide” to explain the causal relationship and correlated death toll.  Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among middle school children, and the second am
ong young adults ages 15-24.  

As social media is the prime avenue for cyberbullying, it’s reasonable for schools to wish to block social media as a preventative measure.  However, after extensive research, we believe social media can actually serve as the tool to save a child’s life.   

 Nowadays, teens increasingly turn to social media to seek counsel or vent emotional distress.  This includes warning sides of high-risk behavior like suicide and self-harm.  In fact, the average school district faces the threat of teen suicide about every two weeks.

Actual student posts:

  • “Life sucks and i wanna jump off a bridge.”
  • “If i kill myself no one would notice.”
  • “I am legitimately contemplating suicide and i legitimately want to kill myself.”

Using Machine Learning techniques, we are able to detect negative sentiment like the above in social media posts.  We then send high confidence alerts to the 1) school district IT admin 2) guidance counselors and 3) parents of the child, so that students receive the proper care and attention.

Already, our technology has helped schools prevent potential tragedy. Mark Nelson, IT Admin of Romeo Community schools, says: “Of the many features distinguishing Securly, none are so important as Sentiment Analysis.  We have contacted school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers, so they could intervene with students and parents.  The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students makes Sentiment Analysis invaluable.”

This same technology can also detect for instances of cyberbullying, a major cause of suicide and depression.  Through social media, we plan to not only stop tragedy – but also eliminate the causes of such emotional distress.

For access to the full whitepaper including more information on student online behavior trends, click here.

To learn more about cyberbullying prevention/detection, and other parental controls, sign up for our parent newsletter below.

Introducing PageScan – our Blacklist that Learns

content, blacklist, PageScan, schools, web filtering


Today, we are announcing that we are Beta test complete on PageScan – our proprietary approach to building a “Blacklist that Learns.”  As any user of a web filter is aware, these products have two different ways by which they maintain their blacklists:

  1. Maintain a static list of websites that are updated periodically.
  2. HTTP response parsing to infer unknown bad content.

The first approach leaves you vulnerable to newer websites that may not be part of your blacklist. The second approach has severe performance limitations.

About PageScan

PageScan is able to accurately block new content and meet the strict performance constraints of modern K-12 networks. We accomplish this using the following approach:

  • The first time we come across  a site that is not in our database, we let it through.
  • We then fetch it offline and scan the response content for keywords indicative of inappropriate content.
  • Our first pass is designed to produce False Positives. We narrow things down with a second pass done with an API call to a third-party service that we have identified as “best-of-breed”.
  • If the site is identified to be inappropriate for kids, we add it to our blacklist.

With this approach, we can recognize an inappropriate site accessed from a school in the UK and use that intelligence to benefit a school in Texas. We are able to identify –with high accuracy– sites belonging to the following categories: porn, drugs, gambling and proxys. Our beta tests have shown an extremely low False Positive rate.

We have decided to release this at the end of September for the following simple reason: we would like to get through the start of school, making only minimal changes to our core system in the interim. Changing the way we handle our blacklist is fundamental to how our system works and the risks of releasing early may outweigh the benefits. As always, should you have any questions, please reach out to

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Meet Our New Partners: iKeepSafe & the Internet Watch Foundation


We are excited to announce our partnership with two organizations at the forefront of online child safety initiatives: iKeepSafe and the Internet Watch Foundation! The mission of each respective organization aligns perfectly with our own commitment to keeping kids safe online.

iKeepsafe has also awarded us the California Privacy Badge.  We are the first web filtering company to receive this distinction.  


About iKeepSafe & the California Privacy Badge

“iKeepSafe is a 501(c)3 non-profit international alliance of more than 100 policy leaders, educators, law enforcement members, technology experts, public health experts and advocates.”  They provide positive resources for parents and educators to teach youth how to use technology safely and productively.

iKeepSafe’s California Privacy Badge is the first independent assessment program specifically tailored to student data privacy legislation, including the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) among others.  To achieve this badge, companies must meet all requirements outlined in primary federal and California laws. This program helps educators and parents in the state of California identify edtech tools and services that protect student data privacy.

Much controversy surrounds cloud-based services and data privacy; however, this certification confirms our promise to protect student data.  It’s our way of letting customers know that student data is safe in our hands.

“We congratulate Securly on successfully completing a careful privacy review by iKeepSafe.  In the past few years, a large amount of legislation has emerged protecting and governing student data. By receiving the iKeepSafe privacy badge, Securly has taken an essential step in helping educators navigate this new terrain and keep student information safe.” Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of iKeepSafe


About the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

The IWF is a UK-based charity whose goal is to eradicate child pornography.  They tirelessly work to remove child sexual abuse images and videos.  

Tracking these websites is especially hard since they’re seldom hosted on static domains. To compensate, IWF has full time staff tracing these sites; and in many cases, they have brought the creators of the material to justice.

This partnership achieves two goals for Securly:

  • By supporting the IWF in their mission, Securly reaffirms its commitment to online child safety.
  • With each daily IWF list release, Securly is able to update its own  blacklist URLs, allowing schools to pre-empt potential legal and PR perils that would result if child porn was accessed on their network.


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Securly’s Brand New Dashboard

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“Good design is as little design as possible” -Dieter Rams

To kick off the “Week of Innovation” –live from the ISTE floor– we are excited to unveil our brand new Dashboard! At Securly, we follow a simple rule of thumb for all product design decisions:

Useful > Usable > Attractive

Useful: Does a customer find a feature useful in the way one finds an automobile useful? Does it serve a basic purpose?

Usable: Is the feature designed to be self-explanatory? Will a customer need to file a support ticket to understand what we have built?

Attractive: Does the design evoke an aesthetic that has instant appeal?

We realized that in the previous version of the Dashboard we built, we had flipped this thinking on its head. Our Dashboard had visual pop, but there was very little about it that was useful OR usable. Hence, we set about redesigning it – adhering to the quote from Dieter Rams at the beginning of this post.

First, we enumerated the stats and graphs supported by our old dashboard and classified each into “useful” and “useless”. Next, we went over customer feedback through support tickets and surveys. We picked a couple of key asks that were worthy of the “front page of the Securly UI”.

The new dashboard has the following new sections:

  • Securly System Health: In the spirit of full transparency, we will at all times provide you an overview of System Health. On those rare occasions when there is a systemic issue, we want you to know that we’re working to bring things back to normal.
  • Recent Releases: All of our regularly scheduled releases (including bug fixes) will now show up as a live feed.

Our new dashboard is scheduled for release on Tuesday 28th of June. Should you have any questions, please reach out to


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