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From what I understand, bullying happens when someone is harmed through an online system that puts them in contact with other users, sometimes masking their identities.

From Wikipedia:

Cyberbullying is defined in legal glossaries as

  • actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm another or others.

  • use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person

  • use of Internet service and mobile technologies such as web pages and discussion groups as well as instant messaging or SMS text messaging with the intention of harming another person.

From "Cyber Bullying Law & Legal Definition":

Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm another.

As such, could the "downvote" button, which is a major "feature" of the SE website, be considered a bullying tool?

It allows people to collectively, but in a hidden manner, criticise the work and input of a single user (instead of discussing with them to tell them they disagree).

This can in turn create a situations in which someone can feel like a group of people is against them, or voted down their content in order to harm them, or do not want to communicate their reasons to them (feeling of domination and exclusion can be reinforced if the person downvoted, as is often the case for a new user without "privileges").

The intent behind each downvote is not clear, and some users could downvote in order to harm if they wanted, this is a possibility and privilege given to them.

Or a user who believes they have been harmed by a down vote could claim the downvotes were made out of hatred since downvotes can be done without justification.

To summarise, could a bullying case involving a new user who got his question downvoted stand in court?

NOTE: I couldn't find "cyber-bullying" and "online-crime" or any related tags in there but feel free to add them if needed.

  • Thanks for commenting. A claim could be filed against the system itself that allows the anonymous and systemised "putting down" of users? My question is about a system that allows you to be anonymous while you put someone down, and whether it's totally what bullying is or not. – MicroMachine Sep 26 '15 at 22:38
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    In what jurisdiction? The precise definition of legal terms depends on jurisdiction; note that "the US" is not a good enough jurisdiction (it varies from state to state here). – cpast Sep 27 '15 at 0:07
  • Cyber bullying laws have not really been tested in court for their constitutionality. Additionally, most bullying laws are generally enforced by schools, but as long as speech is taken off school grounds and outside schools hours several circuit courts including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled it's impermissible under the 1st amendment to levy such punishment. – Viktor Sep 27 '15 at 3:01
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    I think there is a misinterpretation here - a downvote is linked to a question or answer, not an individual user - if someone were to go follow all of a user's activity and downvote them, regardless of the content, then it would be against the stack's rules and the mods would probably try and figure out what is happening (similarly to going to all of a user's posts and up-voting them and thus gaming the point system). – user2813274 Sep 27 '15 at 14:53
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    @nomenagentis when voting is anonymous to the moderators, how can moderators do anything against serial voting? – Philipp Sep 27 '15 at 17:44
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No.

I can't give a more detailed answer without reference to a specific statute. But just about every state anti-bullying statute in the U.S. restricts the definition to...well, bullying. There is a good summary of state bullying and cyberbullying statutes here.

The laws are varied, but they invariable contain words like "harassment", "abuse", "threatening," "fear," and "hostile environment."

Would it be possible to "cyberbully" someone on Stack Exchange under some of these statutes? Sure. You could do it in comments; in answers; even in questions. "Question: Is Bill in my algebra class a dork, or a tool?" Comment: "This is a terrible question, and I'm going to burn your house down. Downvoting." You could probably fit something like that under some of the broader statutes--although they still for the most part haven't been tested for First Amendment issues.

But I don't know of any statute broad enough to include downvoting a question or answer, on a site people post on knowing that the whole purpose of posting is to allow their posts to be upvoted and downvoted.

If there was such a statute--and again, I don't know of any--it would almost certainly be unconstitutional. There is no law against hurting people's feelings, at least in the United States, and a law that allows people to seek legal redress for someone saying "I disagree with you" is pretty much the poster child for a First Amendment violation.

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Can Stack Exchange's down-voting system be considered online bullying?

Like chapka said, no it can't. But I'd say it's sometimes associated with online bullying.

From what I understand, bullying happens when someone is harmed through an online system that puts them in contact with other users, sometimes masking their identities. From Wikipedia: Cyberbullying is defined in legal glossaries as

• actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm another or others...

I'd say that happens on stack exchange, but it happens everywhere. People are people. For myself I don't like the anonymity that some people hide behind, and I don't like the anonymous voting. I think stack exchange would be a better place if everybody used their real names and their voting history was transparent.

Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm another.

Yes, and that would primarily occur in a chatroom or in comments. Whilst dishonest downvote collusion could be described as falsely discrediting somebody, it isn't in the same league as ad-hominem abuse and malicious lies.

As such, could the "downvote" button, which is a major "feature" of the SE website, be considered a bullying tool?

Maybe, but IMHO it would be minor one.

It allows people to collectively, but in a hidden manner, criticise the work and input of a single user (instead of discussing with them to tell them they disagree).

I'd use the word discredit rather than criticise. Yes it can be used maliciously, and I think it's a source of problems for stack exchange.

This can in turn create a situations in which someone can feel like a group of people is against them, or voted down their content in order to harm them, or do not want to communicate their reasons to them (feeling of domination and exclusion can be reinforced if the person downvoted, as is often the case for a new user without "privileges").

Yes, and then the new user departs. Or the expert user departs, and stack exchange is the poorer for it.

To summarise, could a bullying case involving a new user who got his question downvoted stand in court?

No. It can be counterproductive, and unpleasant, but there's no actual words being used, and no threats or intimidation. You can't describe it as bullying.

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    Hi, John, welcome to Law. In general, answers should cite text from a given law, or else provide a source for a reputable interpretation of a law, if that specific law is mentioned in the question. In this case, though, a citation would be really good. This appears to be ~90% opinion. Can you add such citations to improve your answer? Thanks. – HDE 226868 Nov 14 '15 at 22:06
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    The law is formed from opinion based on precedent and policy, not anecdotal evidence. In any case - you say that the downvoting system can't be considered online bullying (and this almost certainly means that all components of it - the downvote button, the reputation removal - cannot), but then you say that the downvote button can maybe could be considered a bullying tool. Could you please clarify? As it stands, this answer is rather confusing and unhelpful. – jimsug Nov 15 '15 at 1:00
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    Umm, no it's not helpful. The internal logic of your answer is still contradictory. That comment doesn't address the issue that I mentioned, which is that you appear to answer that downvotes cannot be considered online bullying, but that the button maybe can. It's like saying that stabbing someone in the heart can't be considered homicide, but that a knife maybe can be considered a tool for homicide (though perhaps that example is somewhat extreme). And please don't use Law SE as a platform to complain about your issues on other sites. – jimsug Nov 15 '15 at 1:09
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    There's no irony in downvoting a poor answer - whoever did it is justified in doing so. – jimsug Nov 15 '15 at 1:54
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    John, this answer (and the associated comments) is a rant. Pure and simple. Your responses to @jimsug's comments say as much, and as I reread the answer, it comes off as more of a meta-style string of complaints. You don't like parts of the system, and you're using this question to say so. Even if what I've just said is false, I stand by my original point, because, as jimsug has said, laws aren't built up from these sort of cases. As such, they are irrelevant. Please focus on the question itself, and cite something reputable to back up your points; otherwise, it comes across as a rant. – HDE 226868 Nov 15 '15 at 3:12

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