State Cyberbullying Legislation

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As of 2009, at least 19 states had enacted some form of cyberbullying legislation.  These states include: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington.  Most laws focus on the school system as the most effective force to target cyberbullying behavior.  Generally, these laws require schools to create and implement policies to address cyberbullying and give the schools the power to discipline students for cyber-behaviors.  Most states have adopted similar language to that used by the Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which held that the harassment must be severe and pervasive enough to effectively bar a student's ability to benefit from an educational environment for a plaintiff to proceed in a suit under Title IV against a school administration in cases of student-on-student sexual harassment. 

The major issue confronting laws that empower school districts to address cyberbullying is whether or not the school can discipline students for behaviors occurring off-campus.  While most laws have been drafted so as to explicitly include all on-campus behaviors, some either implicitly or explicitly include off-campus behaviors as well.  If the cyberbully law extends the reach of the school beyond school grounds, it generally does so only for activities either sponsored by or associated with the school.  For more information on this topic, see this site's pages on Schools and Student Speech

TYPICAL STATE CYBERBULLYING STATUTE: SOUTH CAROLINA

South Carolina, for example, passed the Safe School Climate Act in 2006, which defines harassment, intimidation or bullying to include electronic communications, and prohibits such behaviors both within the schools and at school-sponsored activities.  The Safe School Climate Act (SSCA) also requires schools to implement policies to address bullying and harassment at school, including consequences and remedial actions for students and teachers who commit acts in violation of the policy. Harassment and bullying are defined as acts which could reasonably be perceived to harm a student physically or emotionally or damage property, or those that threaten to harm a student or property damage.  Additionally, the SSCA defines harassment and bullying to include such behaviors targeted at an individual or a group that rise to the level of interfering with the operation of the school.  The South Carolina law also states explicitly that nothing in the Safe School Climate Act should be construed to prevent a victim of bullying or harassment from pursuing other remedies, including applicable civil and criminal laws. 

CRIMINAL CYBERBULLYING LAWS

In addition to laws empowering schools to address cyberbullying, some states have added cyberbullying provisions to their criminal and juvenile delinquency codes. North Carolina, for example, has an anti-bullying statute aimed at school behaviors, but in 2009 also passed "An Act Protecting Children of this State by Making Cyber-Bullying A Criminal Offense Punishable as a Misdemeanor."  N.C. Gen. Stat. §14-458.1. 

North Carolina's cyberbullying law is written broadly to encompass a myriad of cyberbulling behaviors.  Targeted not only at student-on-student bullying behaviors, the statute specifically addresses adult behaviors as well by making it a punishable offense to pose as a minor online, to follow a minor into a chat room, and to post private, personal, or sexual information about a minor online. 

Also prohibited are provoking the harassment of a minor by a third party, sending emails and other electronic messages to a minor with the intent to intimidate a minor or the minor's parents, and copying and distributing electronically or otherwise data concerning a minor in order to intimidate the minor. 

Violations of North Carolina's cyberbullying law are punishable as a Class 1 Misdemeanor if the defendant is over the age of 18 at the time of the offense, and as a Class 2 Misdemeanor if the defendant is under the age of 18.  For minors convicted under the cyberbullying statute, it is also possible for the court to defer judgment, place the minor on probation, and, upon the successful completion of probation, expunge the record of the minor. 

While some have concerns that the broad, sweeping nature of North Carolina's cyberbully law will stifle otherwise free speech, others are glad to see a criminal provision that directly addresses an increasing and pervasive harm. The hybrid nature of the punishment provision, allowing minor offenders to receive juvenile punishments if the court deems it suitable, is recognition of the fact that special considerations need to be made when criminal laws are drafted concerning behaviors that in some instances are specifically juvenile in nature. 

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