What is cyberbullying and cyber harassment?
Online bullying is any type of bullying that takes place online or through technological means. Cyberbullying (both the victim and the perpetrator are underage) or cyber harassment (the victim and/or the perpetrator are an adult) can take many forms. Online bullying can take the form of wounding or threatening messages via emails, text messages, group texts, or iMessage. It can occur on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other sites. Other instances of online bullying include lies or vicious rumors spread electronically through online message boards, online chat rooms, or in a variety of other locations. There are harassers who impersonate their target by creating fake social media or email accounts. Still others post (or threaten to post) photographs or videos of a sensitive or intimate nature to hurt, shame or extort money. Essentially, online bullying is any means of electronic communication that can be used to threaten, intimidate, harass, or transmit insults. It can take on many forms, such as:
- Trolling – deliberately provoking, upsetting, or attacking a victim through online means
- Doxing – posting a victim’s personal information without their consent
- Hacking –accessing a person’s online accounts to collect personal information or impersonate the victim illegally
What are the consequences of cyberbullying and cyber harassment?
The after-effects of cyberbullying and cyber harassment can range in severity from damaged self-esteem to significantly more dire consequences. According to a 2017 report released by PEW Research, online harassment can have profound real-world consequences, ranging from mental or emotional stress to reputational damage or even fear for one’s personal safety. Kids, teens, and even adults who are bullied may end up losing friends and facing a narrowed social circle. Because cyberbullies and harassers can reach a target at any time and any place, victims often feel vulnerable and experience a significant amount of anxiety, fear, and depression. In particularly severe cases, the target of the abuse may engage in violent means or may attempt to injure or kill themselves. Victims of online harassment are often afraid or ashamed to come forward. That’s especially true when the persecution is sexual in nature or involves information, photographs, or videos that were originally intended to be private.
What victims and parents of victims must understand is that the problem won’t go away on its own. Cyberbullying isn’t simply a rite of passage for kids, and online harassment of any kind isn’t something that anyone should endure.
When does cyber bullying and cyber harassment cross the line into criminal conduct?
In a number of cases, cyberbullying crosses the line into criminal behavior. What exactly constitutes a criminal act in relation to online harassment varies based on where the victim resides. Some states have enacted specific statutes that criminalize cyberbullying. However, even in states that do not have specific online harassment or cyberbullying statutes, criminal conduct can occur when it involves:
- Sending sexual pictures (sexting)
- Using embarrassing or false information in an extortion scheme
- Making violent threats that cause the victim to fear for their safety
- Repeatedly sending obscene communications
- Making death threats against a victim or physically attacking or assaulting the target of the online threats
- Harassing someone because of their race, religion, gender, or other aspects that may be covered under hate speech laws, or committing hate crimes
These and other acts can elevate cyberbullying and cyber harassment to a crime, which may provide the victim with additional legal options.
What are my legal options?
Aside from federal protection, each state has its own specific anti-bullying legislation. In addition, local school districts often have anti-bullying clauses in their rules and codes of conduct. For a comprehensive report of state-by-state cyberbullying laws, visit the Cyberbullying Research Center’s website.
Before taking your case to court, it is important to exhaust all other options. Collect a portfolio of evidence, including items such as screen shots, message logs, and downloaded files, in order to build a case. For minors, this information can be handed over to school administrators and the school board. For adults that are harassed or for minors for whom sufficient action is not taken at the school level, the next step is to take the case to court. Many have found that civil lawsuits are easier to navigate than constitutional cases, which often continue over long periods of time before a resolution is reached.
Types of civil suits:
- Invasion of privacy
- Causation of physical or mental harm
- Threats that are unprotected by the First Amendment
- Intentionally causing emotional distress
- Spreading libel
When filling one of these lawsuits, a simultaneous injunction or a court order can be filed, mandating that the bully or harasser stops the harassment. In many cyberbullying cases, the courts have held the parents, students, and/or school district responsible, and the parents of the bully can be liable monetarily. In Ohio, for example, parents can be sued for up to $15,000 in certain civil cases.
Pursuing litigation involves risk and can be time intensive and costly, so experienced legal counsel is advised to help determine what path is most suitable for each individual case.
How can Minc Law help?
Dealing with cyberbullying and cyber harassment entails a multifaceted approach specific to each individual case. Our attorneys provide comprehensive and empathetic counsel, providing a swift plan of action that may include a combination of the following steps:
- Forcing creators of fake profiles to take them down
- Erasing damaging online content
- Contacting law enforcement to report any criminal activity
- Formally contacting schools and workplaces so they can take administrative action
- Obtaining restraining orders
- Suing the harasser for monetary damages
Our practice is dedicated solely to Internet defamation, so our clients receive the most specialized and highly experienced counsel and representation. To learn more about our full range of legal services, including content removal, visit our Services [link to Services landing page] page.
How do I get started?
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Know that if you are being harassed, stalked, or threatened online, it’s never your fault. You have the right to control your digital space and identity — as well as your photographs and videos.
To discuss your specific cyberbullying or cyber harassment matter confidentially, contact us today.
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