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Feb 19

Taking Legal Action Against Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is serious, but it is criminal? That’s the question parents face when they discover their child is the victim of serious and ongoing cyberbullying. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear-cut. Here’s what parents need to know about taking action against cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is harassment carried out in a digital format. Cyberbullying can occur through texting, email, websites, blogs, and social media. The greatest difference between cyberbullying and traditional schoolyard bullying is that kids can’t easily escape the hurtful words and actions of online bullies. Cyberbullying content also doesn’t disappear, so targeted children can revisit their abuse again and again, reopening those emotional wounds each time.

Unlike schoolyard taunts, cyberbullying is often anonymous. This makes it difficult for children to report cyberbullying and for adults to take action against perpetrators.

Who is bullying and being bullied online?

When children are cyberbullied, it’s usually by someone they know. According to the Next Web, children are seven times “more likely to be cyberbullied by current or former friends or romantic interests than just some random stranger.”

Girls, LGBTQ students, and minority students are most likely to experience cyberbullying. The perpetrators of cyberbullying, however, are harder to pin down. Boys and girls are equally likely to cyberbully, and while some cyberbullies fit the profile of antisocial trouble-makers, many online bullies experience depression and are themselves victims of bullying or abuse.

Many of the signs of cyberbullying apply to both perpetrators and victims:

  • Secrecy surrounding online activities.
  • Unusual amounts of time spent online.
  • Odd behavior and mood changes when online.
  • Declining grades in school.
  • Changes in friendships.

What is the danger of cyberbullying?

No parent wants to see their child depressed or doing poorly in school. However, for some victims of cyberbullying, the consequences are much greater. Suicide among teenage boys and girls is on the rise, and cyberbullying is part of the reason. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that victims of cyberbullying are at greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviors. Perpetrators of cyberbullying are also more likely to self-harm or think about suicide when compared to children who don’t bully.

When children involved in cyberbullying exhibit warning signs of suicide, it’s imperative that parents intervene. As a parent, you may not know where to start, especially when you don’t know the identity of a cyberbully. A digital forensic expert, such as those at Secure Forensics, can help parents identify cyberbullies and collect evidence that can be used to stop the bullying.

Are there laws against cyberbullying?

With the correlation between cyberbullying and suicide, it’s no wonder that parents want to take legal action when their child is victimized online.

There’s no federal law addressing cyberbullying, which means that cyberbullying laws vary by state. Most states have developed laws or policies addressing cyberbullying. However, in most states, policies focus on what actions schools must take to prevent and address cyberbullying and don’t establish cyberbullying as a criminal offense. Some states only apply cyberbullying policies to activities that occur on-campus, limiting schools’ ability to address cyberbullying. Parents can find state-specific info on cyberbullying laws and policies at StopBullying.gov.

Regardless of state cyberbullying laws, public schools must address cyberbullying that’s based on race, nationality, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. That’s because these are protected classes under federal civil rights law.

What can parents do to stop cyberbullying?

Legal policies requiring schools to take action against cyberbullying can help shut down online harassment, but parents should also take a role in protecting kids from cyberbullying.

Parents should instruct children to never respond to cyberbullies and demonstrate how to block and report harassers and add privacy settings to social media profiles. It’s beneficial to limit the time your child spends online; unfortunately, this can feel like punishment to a child who is being cyberbullied. Rather than simply restricting online activity, provide children with more opportunities to have fun offline, like new extracurricular activities, hobbies, and family time.

The law is limited in its ability to stop cyberbullying. While many states have policies requiring schools to take preventive and corrective action in response to cyberbullying, many parents feel it isn’t enough. So, what does that mean for parents? While reporting cyberbullying is still important, protecting kids from cyberbullying has to start at home.