In 2019, 16% of U.S. students in grades 9-12 reported being cyberbullied. Many countries have cyberbullying laws in place. Others have laws that address issues that overlap with cyberbullying like defamation or insults. Parents need to know about the cyberbullying laws where they live to keep their children safe.
What Constitutes Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is what the name suggests; bullying in a digital environment using electronic devices such as cell phones and computers. Any number of platforms, including texting, online forums, and gaming live chat can be used to bully someone in a digital environment.
This type of bullying is no different from bullying in general since it aims to embarrass or humiliate someone. Cyberbullying includes but isn’t limited to, posting content to hurt someone’s feelings, reputation, and mental health. Social media apps are the playground of cyber bullies. The anonymity that these platforms provide, makes them a perfectly safe space for cyberbullies, which is ironic.
In the U.S., all states have laws against bullying. Since cyberbullying is a kind of bullying, one could say that there are laws against cyberbullying as well. Some states even mention cyberbullying in their laws. But the general rule in all U.S. states is that schools are required to respond to bullying. How schools are allowed to take action is a different matter. They can:
- Take action required by law
- Use their local or school policies for disciplinary purposes
When we get into the details, we see that a few states have even addressed cyberbullying affecting school performance and have guidelines on how schools should deal with such events.
Should Cyberbullying be a Crime?
The first cyberbullying laws in the U.S. were implemented in the mid-2000s. And in most cases, cyberbullying can turn into a civil case, not a criminal one. But since there’s a thin line between cyberbullying and criminal harassment, prosecutors have been successful in using existing criminal harassment laws against cyberbullies.
Today, some U.S. states clearly include cyberbullying in their harassment laws. In general, such harassment is not considered serious enough to qualify as a criminal offense, but it differs on a case-to-case basis. Some schools punish off-campus cyberbullying as well as on-campus, while others don’t. In that case, civil courts might be the only option left for victims of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying Laws in the U.S.
The states in the U.S. each have their own laws, policies, and regulations in regard to cyberbullying. Some states develop model policies that can be used as templates by schools. A few states even require bullying prevention programs to be implemented in schools. Even though states have taken a stance on cyberbullying, very few describe what consequences a bully should face, and even fewer descript cyberbullying as a criminal offense.
Though states each have their own laws and policies, they do have some common components:
- Prohibiting statement
- Protected groups
- District policy requirement
- Reporting and investigations
- Communication of policy
- Safeguards and supports
- Review and update of local policies
- Prevention education
- Staff training
- Parent engagement
According to stopbullying.gov, there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. In some cases, when bullying is based on race or ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, bullying overlaps with harassment, and schools are legally obligated to address it.
Here are a few examples of cyberbullying laws in some states:
Cyberbullying Law in Texas
In Texas, there are only bullying laws and no policies. But the laws define bullying, outline the school’s scope of jurisdiction, and describe the consequences neatly. On the other hand, there are no protected groups and no reviews or updates of local policies.
California Cyberbullying Laws
The cyberbullying laws in California include not only the definitions and jurisdiction but also safeguards and prevention education. The state also has bullying policies.
Florida Cyberbullying Laws
The state of Florida had both anti-bullying laws and policies. It does not depict protected groups but apart from that, its laws check everything on the checklist mentioned above.
Michigan Cyberbullying Laws
Just like Florida, Michigan’s anti-bullying laws don’t mention protected groups. They also don’t have any safeguards but they do include staff training.
Illinois Cyberbullying Laws
Apart from the lack of staff training, Illinois’s anti-bullying laws are as good as any other state in America.
Cyberbullying Laws in Germany
Germany has no laws that are specific to cyberbullying. Lawsuits related to cyberbullying usually use a combination of laws in regard to blackmail, defamation, and insult to make a criminal case against the bully.
Cyberstalking, a form of cyberbullying, is a crime in Germany. In the German Criminal Code, you can find the section against stalking under § 238 StGB. Under § 187 StGB and § 241 StGB, you can find that the law clearly criminalizes defamation and online threats, both of which can be used as tactics by a cyberbully.
Other sections of the German Criminal Code, also involve laws that can be related to cyberbullying in some cases. Some examples include:
- Section 185: Anyone who insults, offends or otherwise injures or humiliates another person in their honor through statements or actions is liable to prosecution.
- Section 240: Anyone who threatens violence or other harm to another person unless the latter complies with a demand to do, tolerate or refrain from doing something is liable to prosecution.
- Section 186 & 187: Anyone who spreads untruths about a person in forums, social networks or blogs, for example, or utters insults intended to damage the person’s reputation, is liable to prosecution.
How to Report Cyberbullying
When you find out that your child is being cyberbullied, there are a few actions you have to take before reporting it to authorities. It’s important that you teach these actions to your kids as well:
- Document everything the bully has said or done
- Block the bully
- Do not respond to the bully or forward any of their messages around
Afterward, you can report the cyberbullies to different levels of authority. For example, many social media platforms have specific guidelines and codes of conduct. Cyberbullying is almost always not tolerated on these platforms and can be reported.
If cyberbullying can be counted as a criminal offense based on what we mentioned above, you can contact law enforcement. In case you’re wondering if what’s happened can be reported as a criminal offense, check out your state or country’s laws on cyberbullying.
Also, cyberbullying can be reported to your child’s school and if the school has policies, or the state/country has laws in place, your child’s school will react appropriately.
Anxiety, embarrassment, hurt feelings, and mental health issues are what cyberbullying can cause. To deal with these issues and even prevent them, it’s in children’s best interests for parents to learn about cyberbullying laws. Each country, and in America, each state has its own cyberbullying laws and parents need to know what they are based on where they live.