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    Is cyberbullying against the law?

    Date: 10.14.09 | by Judge Tom.

    Gone are the days when bullying at school meant a shove in the hall or insult yelled across the classroom. Bullying has gone digital with devastating consequences in some cases, including suicide. The time has come for the nation to take a stand against cyberbullying. Education, awareness, and legislation are needed to combat this growing phenomenon affecting teens and their families.

    School districts are dealing with bullying incidents through codes of conduct and direct action, including suspension and expulsion. They may also refer the incident to the police for possible criminal prosecution. The act of cyberbullying (bullying through the Internet or cell phone) may be a crime, even if there is no specific cyberbullying law. It is already illegal in your state to threaten someone with injury and to harass or stalk another person. If a cell phone or the Internet is involved with any of these acts, then the victim has been cyberbullied.

    Photo by Judit Klein

    If you’re under 18 and charged with a cyberbullying offense, you could be taken to juvenile detention. The court decides whether to release you pending trial and under what terms you’ll be released. For example, you may be restricted from using the Internet until the case is concluded or placed on house arrest. Most likely you’ll be restricted from any contact with the victim.

    If you’re found guilty of the offense, the court can place you on probation with specific terms including community service hours, counseling, and a period of time in jail or detention. You could also be eligible for a diversion program, which if completed, may let you avoid a permanent record.

    It’s important to understand that even if you plead not guilty to the charge and are ultimately determined to be innocent, you could still be locked up for a period of time. Even a brief period in jail or detention may affect future ambitions including job applications, college admission and scholarship opportunities, or military enlistment. Consider the following cyberbullying cases where teens and young adults spent time incarcerated.

    • In August of 2009, 18-year-old Keeley Houghton was sentenced for the online harassment of another teenager in England. Keeley was ordered to spend three months at a juvenile facility and have no contact with the victim for five years.
    • Hillary Transue was 15 when she criticized her principal online and was found guilty of harassment in 2007. She was sent to a juvenile wilderness program for three months.
    • In Utah, 16-year-old Ian Lake was arrested for creating a website at home that poked fun at his principal and two teachers. He spent seven days in detention, but eventually won his case after three years in court.

    Bottom Line: Think B4 U Click  – unintended consequences may be life-changing.

    Is jail time too harsh a punishment for cyberbullies? Share what you think!

    Check out Judge Tom’s book Teen Cyberbullying Investigated for more information about the legal consequences of cyberbullying and real cases about teens who found themselves in trouble.

    This post was originally written for Netsmartz.org, a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was published on October 13, 2009.

    Listen to Judge Tom talk about cyberbullying global trends and the potential legal consequences on Thomson Reuters’ podcast.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    23 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • KellyAnn
      Tue, 24 Nov 2009 at 07:04

      I don’t think people should be kept in jail waiting for a hearing or court unless they are actually dangerous. it just costs money.

    • Askthejudge.info
      Sat, 02 Oct 2010 at 10:48

      @mcleod Here's a cyberbullying article/resource for you. http://tinyurl.com/272rcd2 and tips for parents – http://tinyurl.com/2dn9te7

    • Askthejudge.info
      Tue, 05 Oct 2010 at 03:54

      Yes, you can go to jail for cyberbullying. http://fb.me/HgVqQBAM

    • RedBeanieBlog
      Tue, 22 Feb 2011 at 04:45

      @iHateLeeDeWyze You may want to read this>>>Is cyberbullying against the law? http://bit.ly/ecW6CA

    • Askthejudge.info
      Sun, 06 Mar 2011 at 08:56

      Today is Ntl. Cyberbully Awareness Day. Know the signs & the laws. Send a kind text/email to someone today! http://fb.me/UyKPNqUq

    • Jamie Kerouac
      Sun, 06 Mar 2011 at 10:10

      http://t.co/rlAUCqS Cyberbullying article #teens #kids #parenting

    • Askthejudge.info
      Mon, 07 Mar 2011 at 05:41

      Thanks for the RT! @FreeSpiritBooks – Today is Ntl. Cyberbully Awareness Day. Send a kind text/email 2 someone today! http://fb.me/UyKPNqUq

    • Jamie Kerouac
      Mon, 07 Mar 2011 at 05:44

      @FreeSpiritBooks – Today is Ntl. Cyberbully Awareness Day. Send a kind text/email 2 someone today! http://t.co/VT5Ha1A

    • Darcy Delaproser
      Mon, 07 Mar 2011 at 05:24

      RT @TopsyRT: Is cyberbullying against the law? http://bit.ly/ecW6CA

    • TruthTheyLoveToHide
      Mon, 15 Aug 2011 at 02:37

      RT @TopsyRT: Is cyberbullying against the law? http://t.co/GZllqPP

    • kallie james
      Thu, 17 Nov 2011 at 11:56

      i have a question i just got arrested yesterday i was charged with internet harrassment or somthing. i am 16, i was taken to jail but they let me go that day. my bf, who is 20 got charged with the same thing. he dosnt have a criminal record though. how long will he be in jail for ??
      Dear Kallie: How long he’ll remain in jail depends on a number of factors: his criminal history (although he has none as far as you know), the facts of the case, the prosecutor’s position, policy of the court and amount of bail if one’s been set. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • andreiantonino
      Sat, 03 Nov 2012 at 12:24

      where to report cyber bullying?
      Dear Andreiantonino: It depends on the circumstances, but you could report it to the police if it’s been ongoing, threats have been made or you believe it constitutes online stalking or harassment. If you are a minor, be sure to tell your parents or an adult you trust like a teacher, school counselor, relative or a friend’s parent. If the cyberbullying is happening at school or from another student, a meeting with the principal or another school administrator should be requested, so the school can take action if possible and necessary. Do not keep cyberbullying to yourself. There are plenty of resources out there and people who want to help.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)
      Please vote for AsktheJudge to win a FedEx small business grant!

    • katelynn
      Mon, 22 Apr 2013 at 10:13

      I’m currently getting cyber bullied and harassed by several students, and even other teenagers who don’t go to my school. My mom took me out of school, and reported them all, but still, nothing has been done. I really don’t know what to do. Especially when some of them are threatening to beat me up and stuff.
      Dear Katelynn: We’re very sorry to hear about your circumstances. You said that you reported them all, but we’re not sure who you reported them to. Your school and the school board needs to know about the cyberbullying. You and your Mom could request a meeting with the principal to discuss the situation. If the principal is of no help, try contacting the superintendent. Be sure to save all of the comments, messages, etc. so that you can share them with the school administrators as well as the police. If there’s any possibility of charges being filed against these students, documentation of the cyberbullying is critical so that it can be used as evidence. Finally, a report should be made with the police especially since you are being physically threatened. If you don’t get anywhere after speaking with an officer, ask to speak with his/her supervisor. Hang in there and take care of yourself.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

    • Sandy
      Thu, 02 May 2013 at 07:29

      Please take a look at the book called TWIN JUSTICE SURVIVED (Our Stories of Bullying). Will this book assist with your efforts? Please advise. Thanks.

      Dear Sandy: Thanks for writing us. We’ll check out the book and let you know. Thanks.

    • Sandy
      Thu, 02 May 2013 at 07:44

      Please take a look at TWIN JUSTICE SURVIVED (Our Stories of Bullying). The book tells the story of the Wilson Twins. The twins, Rainee and Renee, are bullied unmercifully as children but then, as adults, they come back to settle the score. The astonishing nature of Twin Justice Survived will take your breath away!
      Dear Sandy: It’s sounds interesting. We’ll check it out. Thanks.

    • Get More Information
      Mon, 15 Jul 2013 at 04:07

      Thanks a bunch! It is an outstanding website!
      Thank you.

    • Rules of the Chat | CP Republic: The Site of the Club Penguin Republic
      Sun, 28 Jul 2013 at 11:08

      […] charged with a cyberbullying offense you could be taken to juvenile detention”, quote from http://www.askthejudge.info/cyberbullying-stories-and-laws/ . Yup that’s how serious it is, so don’t do […]

    • Michael Evans
      Tue, 17 Sep 2013 at 07:10

      this website helped me understand cyber bullying, but can u answer one more question? My friend sent a ONE message that contained minor racism to a student in middle school while he himself is in high school. Could he be charged at all?
      Dear Michael: It depends on the laws in the state where this took place. Generally, one comment wouldn’t constitute cyberbullying or an offense, but it could if it’s a threat or act of harassment or intimidation.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Kriegar
      Wed, 25 Sep 2013 at 03:07

      “minor racism”

      You should advise this person that not only is there no such thing as “minor racism”, but that he may be laying himself open to hate crime charges-and that he has no business as a high school student to be harassing middle school students, or anyone else, for that matter.
      Thank you for your comments, Kriegar. You make a good point. Without knowing all of the facts of the situation and exactly what was communicated, it’s difficult to know the possible consequences a person faces.

    • Victor B
      Mon, 15 Sep 2014 at 06:13

      I have a 19 year old daughter attending an upstate NY private college. Currently she is sharing a room with 2 roommates. This past weekend a friend approached her and asked if she knew that her roommates were posting things on twitter about her that we wrong, hurtful, and untrue. Are there any legal steps that can be taken before this gets out of hand and befor it mentally takes a toll on my daughter. Please let me know ASAP… A very worried Dad
      Dear Victor: We’re sorry to hear about this situation. You have several options to consider. Talking with your daughter’s roommates may put an end to it and may be the best way to confront this. If the posted messages continue and constitute a crime under the law, you can report it to the police. You can also check with your local district attorney’s office (victim assistance program) for advice. An appointment with a lawyer may also help – many offer free initial consultations. As a last resort you can seek an order of protection from a court. Good luck to your daughter and family.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Emily
      Thu, 05 Feb 2015 at 12:29

      My name is Emily and I currently have cyberbullied somebody because I got very mad at her over all the things she teased and bullied me about. I took a picture of her in class and said I could F****** kill her, but I didn’t mean what I said. I was really mad and had nothing to calm myself so I posted it on my story on snapchat. She filed a police report on me and sent it to the district office. My mom works as a teacher at the school I go to and I just got fed up with everybody and everything. I regret it and I see how much it really hurt her feelings. I NEVER EVER EVER want to do it ever again. How can I change and deal with the crime I committed? How much trouble can I be in? How long could I be put in Juvinial detention? Could I possibly never recover from it?
      Dear Emily: If you are charged with a crime due to this incident, you’ll be notified of a hearing in court. Your parents may want to speak with a lawyer before the hearing or they can wait until your rights are explained to you at court. You may qualify for appointment of a public defender to represent you. If this is your first offense, you may qualify for a “diversion program.” Once you successfully complete the terms of diversion, the case will be closed and you won’t have a record to worry about later in life. So, relax and wait to see what comes of this. We hope you’ve learned from this and think next time before posting anything negative. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Bill Mapes
      Tue, 10 Mar 2015 at 01:15

      My child was cyberbullied at a private university in North Carolina. The university has been dragging its feet in addressing the matter, but finally said it would address it as a student conduct issue. What laws or other compulsions apply to a university’s handling or mis-handling of bullying charges?
      Dear Bill: Take a look at this website for specific information to North Carolina on the subject of cyberbullying.
      Most bullying and cyberbullying laws are directed at elementary, middle and high school districts. However, the underlying behavior, whether threats, harassment, stalking or intimidation fall under the general criminal laws of every state. So, if a crime has been committed, for example, law enforcement may become involved. As far as a university’s duty to reported victims, you have to look to their rules and regulations. You can also discuss this with a lawyer familiar with education law. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Deanna
      Sat, 04 Apr 2015 at 10:41

      Hello I am Mother of two and they have had problems with bullying and had for many YEARS now. Recently it has gotten worse for my daughter and she has adulT’s wwriting horrible things on FB. And other media sites. I never thought another parent would try to hurt another’s Child. What can I do to stop this?
      Dear Deanna: We’re sorry to hear about this. You have a few options in handling this. If you know the adults involved you can approach them to discuss their behavior. You can also talk with the school where your kids go and ask that they follow thier anti-bullying policies. If it continues, notify the police and ask them to investigate this harassment. Take a look at http://www.wiredsafety.org or http://www.cyberbullying.us if your kids are being bullied online. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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