Bullying has been a persistent issue for quite some time. However, in recent years, it has extended its reach from physical spaces such as school grounds and buses to the digital realm of social networking sites and text messages. Known as cyberbullying, it involves the use of the Internet or mobile technology to harass, intimidate, or harm others. To tackle these nefarious behaviors, almost all states have implemented laws targeting traditional bullying. This article explores cyberbullying legislation and how these offenses are prosecuted.
Common Cyberbullying Tactics
Cyberbullying encompasses various tactics, such as:
- Posting unflattering or derogatory pictures or videos of classmates
- Spreading or initiating rumors on social media platforms
- Sending threatening text messages
- Exposing someone to their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Sending messages encouraging self-harm
- Creating fake online identities to befriend and expose others
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What do Laws Say About Cyberbullying?
Until the mid-2000s, specific laws against cyberbullying did not exist. However, legislators have not ignored the growing number of highly publicized incidents involving suicide and school violence. In some states, school officials are responsible for dealing with law enforcement. In these cases, cyberbullying is often addressed as a civil matter rather than a criminal one.
Certain criminal prosecutors have successfully utilized existing criminal harassment laws to prosecute cyberbullies in public schools. Presently, almost half of the states in the U.S. have incorporated “cyberbullying” into their broader bullying or harassment laws. Additionally, most states have included a prohibition on “electronic harassment.”
The current trend is to hold offenders accountable for bullying both on and off campus. However, only around a dozen states have established school sanctions for cyberbullying incidents that occur off-campus. Depending on the state, victims might pursue legal remedies in civil courts or attempt to convince criminal prosecutors to take the behavior seriously enough to consider bringing criminal charges.
State Cyberbullying Laws
Numerous states enforce school penalties for cyberbullying or general electronic harassment. Here is a selection of state laws that tackle the issue of cyberbullying:
- California: Bullying in educational facilities encompasses electronic communications. The Safe Place to Learn Act, among other code sections, guarantees a student’s “inalienable right to attend classes on secure, peaceful, and safe school campuses.” The use of electronic devices to instill fear of life (an extreme form of bullying) can result in misdemeanor charges with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- Florida: Florida’s “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” prohibits bullying of any K-12 student or staff member. It explicitly addresses cyberbullying, or “bullying through the utilization of technology or any electronic communication.” While the law does not entail criminal sanctions, it directs school districts to develop policies and report bullying incidents. Schools have the authority to suspend or expel students found guilty of bullying. It should be noted that enforcement practices vary across districts, with cyberbullying rules occasionally being leveraged to penalize students reporting incidents of sexual assault.
- Missouri: By Missouri statute, cyberbullying refers to various acts, including but not limited to sending messages, texts, sounds, or images through electronic devices. School staff members must report instances of bullying. Individuals employing social media to bully others and make violent threats may be charged with harassment. Generally, such offenses are considered misdemeanors, unless the victim is a minor and the defendant is twenty-one or older, in which case they may be charged as a Class E felony. Penalties can also escalate if the defendant possesses a prior harassment conviction.
What are the Penalties for Cyberbullying?
State cyberbullying laws differ in terms of whether they impose administrative or criminal sanctions. In Florida, school policies are required, but criminal charges are not defined. On the other hand, in Missouri, cyberbullying offenders may face criminal charges in court, but only for violent threats.
Thus, depending on the state’s laws, the penalties for cyberbullies can range from school suspensions or expulsions to potential jail time.
While parents of bullied children often advocate for stricter measures against bullying, civil rights organizations such as the ACLU criticize the use of the criminal justice system to penalize children. These organizations prefer that school administrations handle student behavior issues instead.
Cyberbullying is a criminal act where individuals use written, spoken, or gestured expressions filled with hatred, jealousy, vulgar language, or demeaning words through audio or video mediums. These actions not only harm the reputation of the targeted person but also cause significant stress, anxiety, and mental instability. You need to understand that the laws are on the side of the victim and justice can be achieved.