Cyberbullying Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

Views: 16111

Cyberbullying is using technology to threaten, harass, embarrass or target another person. Some of the most common types of cyberbullying include:

  • Threats on online social media
  • Rude texts
  • Mean or negative tweets
  • Posting personal information and/or videos that are intended to hurt and embarrass someone

Cyberbullying also can include pictures, messages or web pages that are not taken down, after the person has requested it.

In some cases, cyberbullying actually can be considered a form of harassment. Intimidation or meanness that focus on your gender, sexual orientation, race or religion would be considered harassment. No matter if the bullying is done in person or via the Web, this type of nastiness qualifies as discrimination and is actually illegal in many states today. This means that law enforcement can get involved in extreme cases of cyberbullying, and bullies can face prosecution.

Cyberbullying has unique aspects that differentiate it from other types of bullying:

  • Persistent: Digital devices allow people to communicate all the time, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. It can be hard for children and teens who are being bullied to get any relief.
  • Permanent: Most information that is stated online is both public and permanent unless specific action is taking to remove it. Having negative online items about oneself can lead to negative effects including difficulty getting work, getting into college and getting scholarships.
  • Hard to see: Teachers and parents may be unaware of much of the bullying that occurs online because it cannot be seen or heard.

Cyberbullying Laws

There are no federal laws at this time that address bullying or cyberbullying. But bullying does overlap with discriminatory harassment if it is based upon race, color, sex, age, religion or disability. In some cases, federal stalking charges can be brought against offenders.

If the bullying become harassment as defined above, schools that receive federal funds are obligated to get this problem resolved.

At this time, cyberbullying is primarily covered by state law. Many states have enacted laws outlawing cyberstalking and cyber harassment. Also, many states are now enacting laws that explicitly outlaw cyberbullying. At least 44 states have some laws on cyberbullying.

For example, the state of Massachusetts has passed a law that prohibits bullying on school grounds or at a school sponsored event. It does not matter if the bullying occurs in person or via an electronic device. Also, schools in Massachusetts are now required to develop an anti-bullying plan and to develop anti-discrimination and harassment policies.

In New Hampshire, the state statute was revised on student safety and prevention of violence, to now include harassment, bullying and cyberbullying.

A recently passed law in Texas in 2017 also is attempting to crack down on cyberbullying. This is known in Texas as David’s Law, which is named after David Molak, who committed suicide in early 2016 in San Antonio after he was bullied online. The law was recently signed by Governor Greg Abbott, and it made several changes to definitions and the requirements of school districts in how cyberbullying is reported and investigated. It also requires all Texas school districts to create policies to deal with cyberbullying, if they do not yet have them. School districts are required to offer students, parents and others with a way to report bullying incidents, whether they happen on campus or off campus. This must be able to be done anonymously, and the report does not have to be filed by someone who personally has been bullied.

David’s Law in Texas also gives school districts greater leeway on punishing students. This can include even expelling students who have been proven to have coerced other students to commit suicide.

Different Types of Cyberbullying

There are many types of cyberbullying that can eventually lead to criminal charges in the worst cases. If you or someone you know engages in these types of behaviors, a criminal charge is possible:

  • Harassment: The bully sends malicious and offensive messages to a person and does so many times. This is a form of cyberstalking in the worst cases, and involves constant threatening and rude messages. It can eventually lead to physical harassment.
  • Flaming: This activity is similar to harassment. The difference is that it is a fight that occurs online that is done via email, texts and chat. It is a form of public, online bullying that can lead to very serious outcomes with harsh language and images shared about a particular person.
  • Exclusion: This is the act of singling out a person and leaving him or her out of an online group or site. The group will then harass the person that has been left out of the group.
  • Outing: When a bully shares a person’s personal and private information, including images and video in some cases. A person has been ‘outed’ if that person’s information is widely available online.
  • Masquerading: This is where the bully creates a false identity to harass a person on an anonymous basis. The cyberbully may also impersonate another person so to send that person nasty messages in the other person’s name.
  • Fraping: When a person logs onto the victim’s social media accounts and pretends to be that person. This is a very serious offense that some may think is entertaining but it can ruin another person’s reputation. Google generally will not forget anything that has been posted even if it is deleted so this is a very serious form of cyberbullying.
  • Trolling: This is the intentional act of getting a response online by using insults and bad language on social forums and social media sites. It is common for the troll to put down the victim and try to make the person angry and respond in kind.

Note that some forms of cyberbullying also can be sexual harassment. Conduct does not need to be specifically sexual to be harassment, though. It may include the demeaning of a person because of his or her gender or sexual identity. For instance, sexual harassment may include the harassment of a person because girls are not ‘supposed’ to take engineering classes or be good in math. Or, girls should not play a specific sport. Another example is where a cell phone is used to abuse a person by saying she is a ‘whore,’ or sending out negative photographs of the student in a sexual manner. It also is common for the abuser to make an actual videotape of abuse that occurred in person, and then post that on social media for others to see. This leads to a high level of humiliation in the victim and has led to self harm in the worst instances.

YouTube Special Feature

Cyberbullying and Federal Civil Rights

While no federal statutes exist regarding bullying, if a federally funded university does not respond to harassment of students, civil rights laws are being violated. Some of the civil rights laws that could be violated in extreme cases of cyberbullying include:

  • Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federally funded schools, including primary and secondary schools and colleges and universities, must take steps to resolve any bullying that constitutes harassment. Some steps may include:

  • Instituting policies that prohibit bullying, cyberbullying and harassment.
  • Instituting grievance procedures so students can file complaints of harassment
  • Implement training for staff so they can ID harassment
  • Determine consequences for serial harassers and bullies

Note that pertaining to sexual harassment in schools, Title IX does prohibit any discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. Sexual harassment is actually a type of sexual discrimination. Thus, sexual harassment is under the protection of Title IX. Title IX requires a school to respond to any hostile environment that happens in their programs that is due to sexual harassment. It does not matter where or in which form the harassment occurs. So, if sexual harassment occurs in cyberbullying that happens outside of school, it is still creating a hostile environment for the victim. In such cases, it is highly likely that the school would be mandated to respond under Title IX.

Also know that some states have outlawed sexual harassment separately, and some school districts also have policies that ban sexual harassment.

Federal Cyberbullying Law Proposed

The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, but it has not yet been passed. Meier was a teen who killed herself in 2006 after aggressive cyberbullying by a neighbor. The law would prohibit any communication intended to intimidate, harass or cause emotional distress to anyone via electronic devices or computers.

Federal Stalking Law Definition and Sentences

In extreme cases of cyberbullying, federal stalking charges can be filed. In such a case, a person is put in reasonable fear of death or serious injury to herself, her family, or a spouse/partner.

Sentences in such cases can be anywhere from five to 20 years. Twenty years can be the punishment if the stalking leads to some type of permanent disfigurement or a bodily injury that threatens the person’s life. The person may get up to 10 years if there is serious bodily harm or if the person uses a weapon.

Cyberbullying and Filing a Lawsuit

People who have been victimized by cyberbullies may have difficulty in getting the person to stop. One possible alternative is to file a civil lawsuit. Parents of the victim can sue for physical and mental damages. In this case, the parent would have to prove that the victim has suffered both physical and mental pain. With a civil lawsuit, it also is possible to file for an injunction that keeps the bully away from the child both on and offline.

Some parents who do not want to spend a lot of money with an attorney eventually file a small claim action in a civil court. This can be accomplished without paying for a lawyer. Every state has a small claims court, where you generally can make a claim of up to $2000. This is not a lot of money, but filing a small claims lawsuit may get the attention of the cyberbully and/or his parents.

To prove that cyberbullying has occurred in a lawsuit, the parents would need to have evidence pulled from social media and message forums. Simply calling someone a derogatory name on Facebook can be deemed slander under the law. A single copy of a conversation should be enough proof for the judge. If you can illustrate evidence of the cyberbullying and also physical results of the depression and anxiety in the teen, this could be a strong case.

Cyberbullying News & Resources

Charges dropped against girls in Florida cyberbullying case

Florida prosecutors dropped charges two weeks ago against two girls who were accused of stalking a classmate who committed suicide

Charges in Rebecca Sedwick suicide point to tipping point in bullying cases

The cyberbullying case in Florida, where two girls were charged with felony stalking after a girl killed herself could lead other federal agencies to file similar charges in other cases.

School district investigates cyberbullying case

An Annapolis MD high school student took pictures of another student without her knowing it, and the photo ended up on Facebook. The student texted the image with a rude comment to other students.

New App ‘Sit With Us’ Tackles Lunchtime Bullying (BullyWatch.org)

If you watch TV and movies, you know that lunchtime bullying in middle and high school is a common plot line in Hollywood. But there is no doubt that these storylines are based upon real life across the country.

What is Cyberbullying? PsydPrograms.org

Psydprograms.org has authored a fantastic piece all about Cyberbullying.

Educators Guide to Combat Bullying & Bully Prevention

Excellent resource by the group at Teacher.org. We need to teach students the different types of bully behavior so they can identify it and communicate with adults to get it stopped.

CyberBullying Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

References

Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

About Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

Geoffrey G Nathan is a top federal crimes lawyer and Chief Editor of FederalCharges.com. He is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1988, admitted to practice in both Federal and State courts. If you have questions about your federal case he can help by calling 877.472.5775.