Cyberbullying has become an all-too-common event in daily life. The Pew Research Center tells us that 66% of all Americans have witnessed online harassment, while 41% have experienced it themselves. Who are the bullies? They can be your classmates, co-workers or trolling strangers who often create multiple anonymous accounts so they don’t get caught. Cyberbullies use that anonymity and the long reach of technology to inflict pain and humiliation. How, exactly, do they do that?
- Repeatedly sending demeaning messages over social media
- Violation of restraining or protective orders
- Impersonating someone online
- Anonymous threats
- Posting false rumors
- Publication of private contact information or intimate photos
- Spamming negative reviews on sites such as Yelp
Cyberbullying can have serious emotional consequences because it can seem never-ending and is often extremely cruel. However, there are ways to fight back. Here are the legal responses and consequences based on cyberbullying law.
How many states have anti-cyberbullying laws?
All 50 states have cyberbullying laws on the books. However, these laws vary significantly, from state to state. In New York and Ohio, school districts have anonymous reporting mechanisms, education on cyberbullying for students and staff alike, and punishment that includes suspension and expulsion. In California, cyberbullying can be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Offenses in Missouri can be prosecuted as a felony. Though the legal consequences of bullying often change at the state line, common policies include safeguards and training. To learn more about state and school policies and procedures, go to StopBullying.gov.
Is there a federal anti-cyberbullying law?
The unfortunate answer is no. The federal government has not passed a national piece of anti-cyberbullying legislation. However, some cases overlap with federal discriminatory law when harassment is based on race, national origin, color, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), age, disability, or religion. All federally funded schools have an obligation to resolve any form of harassment on these bases.
What else can cyberbullying victims do?
If you or someone you know is the target of cyberbullying, here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Review the terms of service for each social media platform to identify when bullies violate the rules of the platform.
- Report such harassment to the platform on which it occurred. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms each have a process to report messages which violate their terms of service.
- Prevent cyberbullying from getting any worse by utilizing blocking functions available on the platform to stop the bullies from seeing your activities.
- Report anonymous accounts that you think are run by the same individual.
- Protect your kids from cyberbullying by reviewing their online communications, knowing their passwords, and “following” their various social media accounts.
- Document all threatening messages and retain screenshots of each communication for use in any criminal or civil litigation which may follow.
- Threats that include the use of explosives should be immediately reported to the FBI.
- If you think you may be the target of Swatting—which is notification of a fake hostage situation occurring in the victim’s home—let your local police department know.
- When a student is bullying another, contact the school administration to make them aware of the situation.
The best way to combat harassment
Documenting threats, blocking the offending accounts, contacting school authorities—all can stop online bullying from escalating into severe harassment. However, given that all fifty states have varied legal responses to cyberbullying, the surest way to proceed is to get legal support from LegalShield.
We give you access to a dedicated provider law firm that can help you understand your rights within your state and school district. LegalShield provides quick answers and consultation with an actual lawyer, all at a low monthly rate.
The author is with Riggs Abney, one of the largest law firms in Oklahoma and Colorado, provides experienced broad-based legal counsel and representation to business and individual clients in all aspects of law, including such diverse areas as civil litigation, personal injury, products liability, medical malpractice, sports and entertainment, employment and employee benefits, estate planning, banking and finance, real estate and family law. The firm is proud to have served LegalShield members for almost three decades. As the provider firm for Oklahoma and Colorado, we have provided peace of mind to thousands of LegalShield members by helping them to make informed legal decisions.
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