Can You Sue for Cyberbullying?
Can You Sue for Cyberbullying?

Bullying has always been a problem facing young people, but the digital era has brought about a more vicious, inescapable brand of bullying that has become a crisis in recent years. Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices,” according to the Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC).

The CRC reports that about one-quarter of middle and high school students say they have been the victims of cyberbullying at some point. Cyberbullying can include sending cruel or threatening text messages or social media messages, posting videos on Youtube or other sites, creating websites to humiliate other students, and spreading rumors via social media. Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying in that students cannot escape it once they are home and physically away from bullies. They can be targeted and harassed from anywhere, 24/7. Sometimes bullies are able to remain anonymous, which can give them more incentive to continue the harassment. Moreover, the nature of the Internet is that information can be spread quickly to a large audience.

While all 50 states have some laws in place to prevent bullying, laws on cyberbullying are still relatively new and varied. Twenty-three states have laws that expressly prohibit it. However, only 14 of these states actually require schools to have policies addressing cyberbullying that occurs off campus.

The Problem with Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can lead to all kinds of problems, from isolation and depression, to suicide. In fact, 20% of kids who have been cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempt it. According to the CDC, the suicide rate for boys ages 15-19 has increased more than 30%, and suicide rates for teen girls are at a 40-year high.

The National Crime Victimization Survey in 2013 revealed the following:

  • 3.6% of students reported being cyberbullied with hurtful information on the internet
  • 1.1% said their private information had been shared online
  • 2.7% reported unwanted contact via instant messaging
  • 4.4% said they had experienced unwanted contact via text messaging

Of students who said they had been cyberbullied:

  • 25% reported having an experience that resulted in a face-to-face confrontation with someone
  • 13% said they were concerned about going to school the next day
  • 12% reported being called names via text messaging
  • 8% said they had a physical altercation with someone because of something that occurred online

What is the School’s Responsibility?

Courts have consistently ruled that schools may regulate the speech of students off-campus if the speech “would substantially interfere with the work of the school or impinge upon the rights of other students.” This standard was introduced during the Vietnam War era in the landmark free speech case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In the case, a public school district suspended students who wore black armbands to school in protest of the war. The Court ruled that the students’ actions were protected under the First Amendment. They ruled that in order to prohibit a student’s expression of opinion, the school would have to show that the expression would substantially interfere with the school’s work or the rights of other students.

As cyberbullying is still a relatively new phenomenon, courts are still in the early stages of determining when schools have a responsibility to step in. In California, the Safe Place to Learn Act (“Act”) requires that all schools adopt policies to prevent and address student-on-student harassment, intimidation or bullying. “Act” also directly addresses the issue of cyberbullying via “electronic acts.” These are communications of any kind—including messages, texts and social media posts—created and/or transmitted by an electronic device. Any student found to have harassed, intimidated or bullied another student can be suspended or expelled.

Criminal Cyberbullying

In California, it is a misdemeanor crime to electronically post or transmit the personal identifying data of another person, or a harassing message about another person, with the intent to cause that person to reasonably fear for his or her safety. Additionally, anyone who uses a telephone or other electronic means of communication to contact another person using obscene language, or to threaten to injure that person, has also committed a misdemeanor crime.

Filing a Cyberbullying Lawsuit

If you or a loved one have been the victim of cyberbullying, there are legal options to pursue. Contacting a personal injury attorney is an important first step. Your attorney can help you determine who might be held liable for the injuries—physical, emotional and mental—inflicted by the bullying. The responsible parties might include the school/school district, or the parents of the cyberbully. If the bullying was based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability, you might also have a federal claim.

“Cyberbullying is a significant problem facing students around the country. Fortunately, our state has laws that address the issue, and other states would do well to follow suit,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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