Cyber bullying is one of the unwelcome byproducts of the so-called Internet age. Along with the explosion of social media onto mainstream life, sometimes bullying has now moved from the schoolyard to online posts on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, e-mails, or texts. Despite the absence of physical contact or audible insults, cyberbullying can actually be just as traumatizing if not more, than that which goes on in the classrooms, halls, and yards at school. Bullying has now gone from being witnessed by perhaps a few schoolmates, to being potentially exposed to all of a child’s friends, family, and acquaintances. As a result, the embarrassment, shame, and other more severe consequences that accompany bullying can actually be greater in an online environment.
Until relatively recently, no laws specifically addressed cyberbullying. But legislators have not been blind to the increasing number of high-publicity incidents, along with some tragic results in certain cases. Laws have started to spring up in various jurisdictions, but often these laws leave enforcement in the hands of school officials and treat the issue as one affecting the classroom environment. As such, cyber bullying may often be treated as a civil, rather than a criminal matter.
However, prosecutors have sometimes used existing laws in the books to prosecute individuals suspected of cyberbullying. Criminal harassment statutes can often provide a basis for bringing charges in severe cases of cyberbullying, and more serious criminal charges have been brought in cases where cyberbullying has resulted in tragic consequences, such as suicides. Recently created cyber harassment statutes may also provide an avenue for charging online bullies in some states.
The penalties for cyberbullying are as wide-ranging as the laws discussed above. Depending on the state and applicable laws, sanctions for bullying could range anywhere from civil penalties, such as school intervention via suspensions and/or expulsions, to jail time for criminal misdemeanors and even felonies. As this area of law is rapidly evolving, for more information on the laws that apply in your jurisdiction it may be best to contact a local attorney specializing in cybercrimes.