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Cyberbullying and the Law

When someone is hurt, or they are angry and embarrassed, they want justice. And to many, justice means courts, lawyers, police, jail and judges. But most cyberbullying isn’t a crime. And most of the time the police aren’t called or don’t take any action after the initial report. Schools, parents and cyberbullying targets usually end up working it out or getting past it.

Even if most cyberbullying doesn’t result in legal action, one of the first questions everyone asks when cyberbullying occurs is “what’s the law?” To answer that, you need to understand how law works in the US, Canada and the UK, as well as many other countries. Laws are complicated, so we made it as simple as possible and left out some details. Remember that if you have real legal questions, you should contact a lawyer. This isn’t legal advice. It’s just cyberbullying legal information.

 

The Different Kinds of Laws and Legal Approaches:

There are several different kinds of cyberbullying legal approaches. Some may involve courts and possible jail, paying fines or damages or a special process that allows the person a second choice or a way to avoid court entirely. Some others may involve school disciplinary actions, losing your social media or gaming account or the right to use the Internet entirely.

 

  • Crimes: Criminal laws involve government prosecutors bring a case against an individual. The person can be found guilty or not guilty by a judge or jury. If found guilty, they may end up in jail, depending on the crime. Rarely are minors sent to jail, though. They are usually sent to family court under charges of juvenile delinquency instead of sent to criminal court.

  • Juvenile Justice: When minors commit a crime, they are generally charged with juvenile delinquency instead of the crime. If found guilty, they are declared a delinquent and may be put in a juvenile home or institution, but not adult jail.

  • Diversionary Programs: Sometimes when a crime is committed, instead of holding a trial, the judge may allow the person a second chance.

    • Delayed Adjudication – The judge may permit the person being charged avoid a trial and will wait and see if they person stays out of trouble for 6 months or a year. If they do, their case is dismissed.

    • Peer-Adjudication – The judge may allow the person being charged go through a special process run by other young people to determine what should happen and any punishments.

    • Restorative Justice – The judge may order a restorative justice program instead of a trial and criminal prosecution. Restorative justice is designed to help make things better, to help the person feel like they received justice. It was designed by First Nations/Native Americans/Aboriginals.

      • Traditional Restorative Justice Methods –

      • Clean Up the Mess You Made (Parry’s version of Restorative Justice) -

  • Civil laws involve lawsuits, where the person sued is brought to court, and if found liable may be forced to do something, stop doing something or pay money. Lawsuits don’t involve crimes or jail, but they may include parents of the person being sued for cyberbullying, or the school or other parties. The person being sued, even if a minor may have to pay the charges. Sometimes their parents will. Sometimes both are responsible.

  • Account Suspension or Termination: Whenever you set up an online account, you must accept their terms of use and privacy policy. That’s what’s happening when you check the box that you “agree.” If you break the rules you agreed to, whether or not you read or understood them, you may lose your account or have it frozen.

  • School Discipline: In some cases, when the cyberbullying occurs at school or at a school event or when using school equipment or something occurs at school relating to the cyberbullying, the school authorities may give the person involved detention or suspend or even expel them. They may remove them from student counsel, a sports team, cheerleading squad or prevent them from attending an event or participating in a school activity.

 

Defending Against Cyberbullying Criminal Charges: There are two major ways to avoid cyberbullying legal charges. These involved the protection of a constitutional or human rights guarantee or “self-defense” or “defense of others.” Just know that what you see on TV isn’t accurate, and constitutional or self-defense claims are not successful most of the time.

 

Constitutional or Free Speech Protections: In the US, free speech is covered by the US Constitution. In other countries, it may be covered by other laws or legal documents. Free speech usually only keeps the government from doing something to prevent “protected speech.” Certain things are “protected speech” and usually involve political opinions. Other things are not protected, like threats.

In the US, if the person is charged with cyberbullying criminally, proving that the actions were “protected speech” may prevent the prosecution or reverse a guilty verdict. But, free speech doesn’t mean you can say and do anything you want. And most cyberbullying is not protected by the US Constitutional.

 

Self-Defense: In the US if you do something to defend yourself against harm or protects someone else from harm, you may be able to be forgiven if you did it in “self-defense” or “in defense of others.” But “they started it” isn’t self-defense.