The bully who used physical strength or repeatedly took advantage of other forms of a power imbalance to assert control over other children has been a problem in schoolyards and playgrounds for generations. Modern teachers, school administrators, and psychologists recognize bullying as contributing to serious psychological problems for both the child committing the acts and the victim.
The invention of the Internet has taken bullying outside of the school. Unlike the bully preying upon victims during school hours, cyberbullying may occur anywhere. All that is required for cyberbullying is access to electronic technology such as computers, tablets, cellular phones, or any devices that are capable of accessing the Internet. Text messages, emails, or pictures and photographs posted on social networking websites become the weapons of choice for cyberbullying.
Embarrassing photos, threatening messages, and other harassing forms of communication can quickly be disseminated to a wide audience anonymously using fake usernames or profiles. The difficulty or impossibility of removing the material from the Internet once it is posted makes cyberbullying potentially even more damaging and harmful than other forms of bullying.
Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to experience the following harmful behaviors than individuals who have not been subjected to it:
- Poor attendance and performance at school
- Alcohol and drug use
- Exhibit low self-esteem
- Poor physical health
Laws against Cyberbullying
Because of the deleterious effects of cyberbullying, legislatures in most states have enacted laws to prohibit it. States that have not passed laws directly targeting cyberbullying have enacted laws prohibiting electronic harassment. However, there are only 14 states that impose criminal penalties on those engaging in cyberbullying behavior.
States such as Oklahoma and California require school districts in their states to adopt policies to protect students against cyberbullying. Nevada criminalizes cyberbullying by making it a misdemeanor to engage in it. Nevada also has criminal laws that can be used in addition to its cyberbullying statute to prosecute people using electronic technology to engage in harassment or stalking.
Punishment for Cyberbullying
Most state laws authorize school districts to impose suspensions or other administrative penalties on children who engage in cyberbullying. Other states, such as Tennessee and Virginia, make it a criminal activity punishable by fines and imprisonment or jail. Tennessee imposes a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.
Constitutional issues involving the First Amendment have made it difficult to penalize cyberbullying. The highest court in New York struck down that state’s anti-cyberbullying law as an unlawful restriction on freedom of speech.