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bullying laws

Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online?

Since the assimilation of social media into everyday life became nearly unavoidable, lawmakers have been working to strengthen the laws prohibiting cyberbullying, cybercrime, and online threats. Potentially in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that reversed the conviction of a man who posted his own original rap lyrics about his fantasy of killing his wife on social media, state's around the country continue to embrace new laws that create for a safer, less hostile online environment. The Supreme Court's stance on online threats seems to land more in favor of characterizing even the most despicable speech as protected under the first amendment. Despite the Supreme Court's stance that the online harasser's intent matters, states can still regulate and prosecute people they believe have made credible online threats. Context Matters When it comes to evaluating whether an online threat is illegal or not, the context is highly relevant. If the threat is clearly made in a way that makes it appear to be a joke, satirical, or sarcastic, then it probably won't be considered a threat. However, if the language appears to be serious, then it must be looked at more closely to determine whether it is legal or not. Also, context changes with the times. When a recent school shooting is still fresh in the news, making a joke about it, while you may think it's just in poor taste, could very well be viewed by others as a threat, and that can get you arrested. What Makes an Online Threat Illegal? While some states don't have specific laws about online threats, all have laws against making criminal threats and bullying. Determining which online threats are illegal requires looking at the individual characteristics of each threat. If an online threat would rise to the same level as an in-person, or telephonic, criminal threat, then the online threat will likely be considered illegal. Usual considerations include: Who the threat is directed to? What is being threatened? Who is making the threat? Is the threat credible? What did the speaker really mean or intend? If the threat is directed at a specific person, with a specific threat of harm, from an easily identifiable source, and appears credible, it is likely the threat will be considered illegal. When the threat does not target an easily identifiable person or group, or does not specify a type of harm, or is just terminally vague (i.e. "Chicago Cubs fans are going to get it"), this is not likely to rise to the level of a criminal threat. However, as the 2014 Supreme Court decision advised, a speaker's intent can make all the difference in determining whether a post is considered a threat or protected expression. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Is Cyberbullying? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Top 7 Internet Crime Questions (FindLaw's Blotter) Specific State Laws Against Bullying (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Is Cyberbullying a Crime? What Can Victims Do?

A 17-year-old North Carolina is facing cyberbullying charges after posting a nude photo of a 15-year-old girl to Instagram, CNN reports. The incident raises the question: Just when does cyberbullying turn criminal? Here's an overview of cyberbullying statutes and what you can do when confronted by cyberbullying: Can cyberbullying be criminal? Nineteen states now have cyberbullying-specific laws on the books, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center; 14 states impose criminal sanctions for cyberbullying. Definitions of criminal cyberbullying and corresponding penalties vary by state, but generally speaking, the laws encompass acts of online harassment -- words or images sent via email, texts, or social media that are intended to intimidate or embarrass another person -- and typically categorize the offense as a misdemeanor. The penalty may also be age-specific. For example, the 17-year-old student from North Carolina faces a Class 2 misdemeanor under the state's criminal cyberbullying statute; if the defendant is over 18, the offense is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina. What can you do? According to a new FindLaw.com survey, three out of four surveyed parents reported incidents of cyberbullying typically to "friends, school, relatives, law enforcement, and church or clergy." If you become aware of an act of cyberbullying, your first step may be to notify school authorities. If the situation is serious, you may even want to involve law enforcement. In such a case, make sure to give law enforcement copies of the bullying messages or images. How can a lawyer help? With the assistance of an attorney, parents may be able to sue for cyberbullying as an alternative way of reaching parents, school authorities, or law enforcement when other more direct paths prove fruitless -- especially in a state without a cyberbullying statute in place, as Yahoo! Shine reports. The field of cyberbullying-related litigation is still evolving, but there are now examples of victims and their families suing cyberbullies. Before filing a lawsuit, however, perhaps your attorney can write a strongly worded demand letter to a school (or parent) that is slow to respond to cyberbullying. To learn more about how the law can help in your personal cyberbullying case, check out our page on Cyberbullying. Parents of cyberbullying victims may also want to consult an education attorney or an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options. Related Resources: Alleged Bullies Arrested in Fla. Girl's Suicide (FindLaw's Blotter) 2 Teens Cleared in Fla. Cyberbullying Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Sarcastic Facebook Threat Lands Teen in Jail (FindLaw's Blotter) WA Girl, 12, Sentenced for Facebook Cyberstalking (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Cyberbullying Victim? 3 Ways a Lawyer Can Help

Cyberbullying victims aren't just an invention of an overzealous news media. They're a reality. According to a new FindLaw.com survey, nearly 1 in 12 parents say their children have been targeted by cyberbullies. The survey also suggests ways that a lawyer may be able to help parents deal with the issue. Here are three ways enlisting an attorney can potentially assist a cyberbullying victim: 1. A Lawyer Can Advise You About Your Rights. Although most cyberbullying victims are children and teens, the effects of this harassment can unsettle entire families. This effect is the greatest when cyberbullying leads victims to drastic action such as committing suicide. An experienced personal injury attorney can sit down with family members and the bullying victim(s) to evaluate their case based on the facts and state and local laws. About half of the nation's states have laws specifically relating to cyberbullying, and an attorney can help explain how these laws apply to the victim's case. Even if your state lacks more focused cyberbullying legislation, a lawyer can discuss your options under a potential harassment claim. 2. A Lawyer Can Help You Communicate With Your Child's School. Sometimes parents feel just as powerless as children when reporting cyberbullying to school administrators. According to FindLaw.com's survey, three out of four parents choose to share these incidents with others, and a lawyer can help these parents effectively communicate with their children's schools. Even if it doesn't mean filing a lawsuit, a lawyer can help you draft demand letters to request changes in school policy or even monetary compensation for cyberbullying that occurred on a school's watch. An education attorney can also help parents navigate the complicated world of public school bureaucracies. 3. An Attorney Can Help Draft Legislation and Lobby Policymakers. After you've discussed your legal options, you may be unsatisfied with the protections that the current laws grant you or your child. A great way to change that is to work with grassroots anti-bullying groups to propose new cyberbullying laws or other changes in policy. It may not be surprising, but a proposed bill that has been drafted by a lawyer has a greater chance of being taken seriously than one drafted by a non-lawyer. Enlisting the help of an attorney who is well versed in state and local laws can make your proposed cyberbullying law a legal reality. Victims of cyberbullying aren't without options, and with a lawyer's help, families can explore them. Related Resources: Cyberbullying: Proposed Federal Law Aims to Define Codes of Conduct (New York City's NY1) How Common Is Cyberbullying? Survey Says... (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) FindLaw Cyberbullying Survey: A Refresher for Parents (FindLaw's Insider) Cyberbullying: A Rundown of Cyberbullying Laws (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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How Common Is Cyberbullying? Survey Says…

A new FindLaw.com survey reveals nearly one in 12 parents say their children have felt the effects of cyberbullying. In a survey that polled hundreds of adults, FindLaw.com found that 7 percent said their children had experienced some form of cyberbullying. That suggests millions of children have dealt with the pervasive issue. Still, many more parents may not be aware of how cyberbullying may be affecting their child. Here's a general overview of what parents need to know about cyberbullying and how to deal with it: Cyberbullying Comes in Many Forms When children are harassed or victimized via the Internet or mobile technology, it's called cyberbullying. And while some are skeptical that cyberbullying is more than just a buzzword, it has been linked to several deaths. The serious and potentially criminal consequences of cyberbullying make it all the more important to understand its impact on children and their families. Key to this understanding is acknowledging its myriad forms: social media attacks, vicious texts, and even hurtful emails. Cyberbullying even can encompass disseminating sexually explicit photos of a teen in an attempt to shame or humiliate that person. Majority of Parents Report Cyberbullying Of the parents who told FindLaw.com that their children have been cyberbullied, 75 percent say they reported the bullying to others. Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying cannot be addressed unless it is reported to someone in power to act -- like a school administrator or the police. Three out of four parents told FindLaw.com surveyers that they reported these incidents typically to "friends, school, relatives, law enforcement, and church or clergy." Reporting the incident to law enforcement may be more effective now than in previous years -- 19 states now boast cyberbullying-specific laws, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. What Can You Do If Your Child Is a Cyberbullying Target? Aside from involving school authorities or law enforcement, parents may wonder if they can sue for cyberbullying. Although this field of law is still evolving, there are now examples of victims and their families suing cyberbullies. If you need answers about how the law can help in your personal cyberbullying case, you may want to consult an education attorney or an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options. If the results of the FindLaw.com survey are any indication, your family and your child are not alone in the struggle with cyberbullying. Related Resources: 10 Strategies for Stopping Cyberbullying (The Huffington Post) 2 Teens Cleared in Fla. Cyberbullying Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Alleged Bullies Arrested in Fla. Girl's Suicide (FindLaw's Blotter) Social Media Posts Costing Jobs: FindLaw Survey (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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