Bullying has always been a problem among school-age children, and with the advent of the digital age came "cyberbullying." Cyberbullying occurs when a person uses information and/or communication technologies to intentionally and repeatedly bother, harass, or verbally attack another person. With occurrences of cyberbullying on the rise, many states have enacted or proposed cyberbullying laws. Many school districts have also implemented policies that prohibit acts of cyberbullying and call for harsh disciplinary action if violated.
Cyberbullying is generally distinguished from cyberstalking based on the age of the victim and the perpetrator. As a rule, cyberbullying victims are elementary or high school-age children, while stalking victims and offenders are adults. Cyberbullying may take place over email, text messaging, or cell phones, as well as social networking sites or even blogs.
Within the United States, many states have had laws on the books for some time addressing bullying; however, those laws often do not contemplate "cyber" bullying or the use of electronic media to perpetrate the crime. As a result, state legislatures have had to propose new cyberbullying laws in order to cover this new form of bullying. As of 2011, seven states, including Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, had cyberbullying laws that included criminal sanctions for anyone convicted of the crime.
The United States Code makes it a federal crime to make a threat via the internet. The applicable statute, however, requires the threat to be made in an effort to extort money or something of value from the victim, making it inapplicable to most cases of cyberbullying. As of 2011, the United States legislature is considering legislation that would create specific cyberbullying laws.
In most cases, where cyberbullying laws exist, the crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum term of imprisonment of not more than two years. Of course, the bullying can escalate to a more serious crime, in which case, a more serious penalty may apply. Because the offenders are often minors, additional penalties such as court supervision or mandatory counseling may be more appropriate than incarceration.
In addition to actual cyberbullying laws, many school systems have enacted very specific policies that address and deal with situations of electronic bullying. The vast majority of states within the United States have a requirement that each school system have a cyberbullying policy. Within the policy, there must be disciplinary action for any student found in violation of the rules, up to and including expulsion from school and referral to the legal system when appropriate.