When Cyberbullying Becomes a Crime

Bullying has always been around in one form or another. From cruel banter among middle school kids to more serious forms involving elements of hate crimes, bullying is quite traumatizing to the victims. These days, however, it has shifted online. Internet access makes it a lot easier to create dummy accounts on any one of several platforms and bully people, hence the term cyberbullying. If you or a loved one are a victim of cyberbullying, Canyon State Law is the best criminal defense attorney in Mesa, AZ. You can get justice for such unlawful behavior.

The Seriousness of Cyberbullying

Up until recently, cyberbullying was not considered a major issue. Afterwards, its effects were less visible compared to traditional bullying where victims may present with physical injuries. Or at least that was the general consensus.

Cyberbullying is a much more pernicious problem as exhibited by these characteristics:

i)Less visibility: Victims of cyberbullying are harder to identify easily. For example, if kids are the victims, it may not become immediately apparent to their parents or guardians that they’re experiencing such harassment

  1. ii) Persistence: Given that cyberbullying occurs online or utilizes electronic devices, it means that it can happen at any time without reprieve for the victims. Besides, if such bullying involves unflattering images of an individual being posted online, such pictures are there permanently.

iii) Ever present: With the advent of smartphones and social media platforms, individuals are always connected. This works against cyberbullying victims because the problem is always a click away.

A classic example of cyberbullying might involve a young person having unflattering pictures of them posted online along with hurtful comments. Given the nature of the internet, such photos can go viral quickly. Strangers and other people may then chip in with their (cruel) comments too. This creates a situation whereby the young person now has to deal with a whole community of bullies instead of just the one person that started it. Given that young people are exceedingly attuned to peer pressure, such cyberbullying can push them over the edge. There have been numerous reports of such victims committing suicide because the cyberbullying was too much to handle.

Common Cyberbullying Tactics

In addition to posting unflattering pictures of individuals, other common cyberbullying tactics may include:

-Creating a false account with the intent of befriending someone and then exposing their private life

-Sending a message that encourages the victim to harm themselves or commit suicide

-Making fun of someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or proclivities

-Sending threatening messages

-Starting rumors about the victim (or posting them) on social media platforms

Cyberbullying and the Law

There have been numerous, highly-publicized incidents involving cyberbullying. Such incidents have included victims committing suicide or using firearms to kill perceived bullies. While there have always been laws regarding bullying, such incidents have led to greater awareness and a tougher stance on the issue. Some jurisdictions leave the matter of cyberbullying to school districts to handle as they see fit. Others, like Arizona, take a more proactive approach. Law enforcement can now arrest suspected cyberbullies and arraign them for prosecution.

Cyberbullying is now included in the broader definition of harassment laws in most states. For example,

i)In Arizona, harassment is defined as any conduct intended to seriously shock or alarm a reasonable person. Such conduct constitutes a criminal offense (including cyber bullying) if the perpetrator engages in unreasonable surveillance of the victim, continuously harasses them, or communicates to the victim in a manner that poses a threat to their person or mental state.

  1. ii) In California, harassment using electronic means constitutes cyberbullying. For instance, using social media to cause someone to fear for their safety carries a possible jail term.

iii) In Florida, the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” encompasses a wide range of acts of harassment that constitute cyberbullying. For example, it prohibits the use of technology or electronic devices to bully any staff member or K-12 student.

  1. iv) In Missouri, cyberbullying is defined by a statute to include any form of a “message, text, sound, or image” that threatens a person’s well-being.

Penalties for Cyberbullying

In some states, school authorities are left to handle cyberbullying cases. Punishments tend to include suspension from school or expulsion. In states where law enforcement is involved, cyberbullying tends to be a misdemeanor that can carry a fine ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands. An imprisonment is also an option in cases where cyberbullying may have led to physical injuries or death. Many parents choose to file a lawsuit against schools where their children experience cyberbullying.

All in all cyberbullying becomes a criminal offense when it causes enough disruption to the victim’s life to endanger their physical or mental well-being.