Is Cyberbullying Illegal in Your State?

The ubiquity of social media and mobile technology has made it easy for bullies to continue their behavior on every corner of the Internet. We’ve shared some tactics that students and adults can use to prepare for and react to cyberbullying that happens on school-provided technology. Sometimes, however, these efforts don’t curtail the harassment, and the time comes to consider legal action. Is cyberbullying illegal? And if so, how are cyberbullying laws enforced?

There is currently no federal law against cyberbullying, but all 50 states have laws against bullying in general—and every state except Alaska and Wisconsin includes an explicit reference to cyberbullying in their anti-bullying laws. StopBullying.gov features an interactive map that gives detailed descriptions of each state’s anti-bullying laws, including what groups are protected and whether that state provides a model policy that educators can use to create anti-bullying policies for their school or district.

Cyberbullying.org has its own interactive map, which focuses on four enforcement tools that parents and schools might consider:

Criminal sanction. Almost every state has laws that expressly criminalize electronic forms of harassment. The only states that don’t are Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

School sanction. In 45 states, bullying laws include provisions empowering schools to discipline students appropriately. The exceptions here are Alabama, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire (again), and Nevada.

School policy. In every state except Montana, the bullying law requires schools to have a formal policy to identify bullying and discuss the possible disciplinary responses.

Off-campus behavior. Federal law allows schools to discipline students for off-campus behavior that substantially disrupts the learning environment, and 16 states have statutes to that effect as well.

The penalties that schools can impose on cyberbullies vary from state to state. California, for example, allows schools to suspend or expel offenders on a case-by-case basis. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, schools have the option of using law enforcement to intervene, and can maintain internal records of cyberbullying for police investigations.

Laws like this one explicitly turn cyberbullying into a legal matter rather than a school disciplinary issue. Whether other states will follow suit remains to seen, but educators and parents around the country should keep an eye on changes in the laws that protect students online.

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