The Cyber Dignity Program is an interesting program that we have wanted to highlight since we sat down with the team early in the year to discuss. While COVID-19 and Racial Justice activities have been top of news, we feel this program is as current and pressing of an issue as ever and we applaud the great work.
Social media has, in many ways, magnified the complexity of the issues teens and young adults face. It is important for teens and young adults to learn how to prevent as well as deal with these issues and what to do when they see something unlawful happening to a peer online.
To address these challenges, Practising Law Institute (PLI) teamed up with the Cyber Dignity Program to digitize their training program, “Cyber Dignity: Digital Age Law for Teens and Young Adults.” This program trains pro bono attorneys and advocates to teach young adults and teens about their rights and how to make healthy decisions in relation to their online presence. As part of the Cyber Dignity Program, attorneys visit schools and communities throughout California to provide students and young adults with a clearer understanding of their legal rights and obligations in the digital realm. PLI’s program trains attorneys about unlawful online and related criminal conduct. It also teaches attorneys how to empower teens and young adults to exercise their rights in relation to online misconduct, best practices to engage teens and young adult bystanders to help their peers navigate the pitfalls of technology misuse, and how to report misconduct.
Pro Bono Net had the opportunity to sit down with Carrie LeRoy of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Amr Razzak of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Mahlet Getachew of Suki AI, and Ivo Mijac, Senior Program Manager at PLI. They were kind enough to share with us their experiences with this program, and provide more information, including how this program got its start and why and how attorneys might get involved to expand it.
The Tragic Catalyst
We asked Carrie LeRoy, the chairperson, about her motivation for starting the Cyber Dignity Program.
Carrie began teaching teens and young adults about their rights and major pitfalls online after hearing a tragic story of a California teen. Audrie Pott was sexually assaulted at a party. Following the assault, explicit photos of her were posted online and she experienced horrendous cyberbullying. Audrie committed suicide eight days after that party.
Extremely saddened and affected by Audrie’s case, Carrie thought, “Something needs to be done. Nobody has the right to use technology to shame victims of sexual assault.” Carrie decided to reach out to the Palo Alto Unified School District and offered to be a guest speaker to talk about the problems that teens and young adults face on social media and the internet, what rights they have online, and how to help a peer going through a cyber issue.
Carrie continued speaking to teens and young adults and grew the program through her law firms—first at Skadden, Arps in 2013 and most recently, with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. That is when PLI gave this program a broader platform on which to expand. Carrie explained, “this program is great, because you do not need to be connected to any law firm or company. You can take the curriculum and help teens and young adults learn their legal rights and obligations in the digital realm.”
Why Attorneys are Critical
“Seeing a lawyer talk about this made it more real.” This has been a common response following each class where pro bono attorneys have presented and students have been asked to write comments and questions. Lawyers are uniquely situated to offer their legal expertise on issues ranging from cyberbullying, sexual consent, online hate crimes, and more. According to Amr Razzak, kids are sophisticated when it comes to social media, but they don’t appreciate the legal implications of some of their actions or know their legal rights. Mahlet Getachew added that they start this class with two main concepts: one, that ignorance of the law is never a defense; and two, that the law protects their dignity.
Attorney Training on Cyber Dignity
Taught in both public and private schools, the Cyber Dignity Program covers a range of issues ranging from cyberbullying, online hate crimes, sexual consent, human trafficking, and teen sexting. The training through PLI is designed to talk attorneys through the major considerations involved. It focuses on combatting a victim-blaming culture that can be worryingly prevalent in schools by providing an in-depth overview of the legal framework and concepts that empower victims of online crimes and related misconduct. The program also helps attorneys identify legal and mental health resources for teens and young adults in the communities in which the Cyber Dignity Program is taught.
Attorneys can also learn how to replicate an effective version of the Cyber Dignity Program and launch it at any high school or college in California. With the goal of having this program one day roll out on a national level, replicating this program throughout California is a big step in the right direction. Attorneys interested in replicating this program in their area are encouraged to reach out.
If you are an attorney thinking about getting involved but are not sure if you are qualified or are the right person for this program, the easiest thing to do is to go observe a class or take the training offered by PLI. The program partners with specific legal services providers in several parts of California. These legal services providers will be there to help answer any specific questions. Materials for the program are updated and continually evolving each year.
Mahlet adds that “[t]he learning curve is steep at first, but then you realize is it something that you can do. You can also give young people a sense of power to save lives. It is not a legal requirement to report something, but they do have the power that can save a life.”
Carrie continues to think about the Audrie Pott case that got her involved with this initiative in the first place. She says, “I always think that Audrie Pott is sitting in this classroom and she was assaulted last week. We want to prevent crimes, engage bystanders but also help those struggling with difficult issues to help them to make empowered and empowering decisions.”
To learn more about Cyber Dignity: Digital Age Law for Teens and Young Adults and watch it on-demand please click here. This Cyber Dignity program was offered as part of PLI’s pro bono curriculum, which provides the legal community with the training necessary to assist individuals in need of legal representation. For more information about PLI’s pro bono trainings, scholarships, and Pro Bono Membership, please visit www.pli.edu/probono.