As the opportunity to connect with others at the touch of a button continues to grow in the world and our children gain access at younger and younger ages to electronic forms of communication, we must consider the ramifications of cyberbullying. Here in Florida, cyberbullying is a big problem for children and teens, just as it is a problem across the nation. But what are the Florida cyberbullying laws? Can this harassment be stopped through legal means? What can you do to protect your children from the cruelty we so often see on the news?
What is Cyberbullying in Florida?
First, we need to understand what cyberbullying means in a legal context in Florida. Thankfully, Florida is one of the few states that legally defines cyberbullying. According to the Florida statutes, cyberbullying is “bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication.” The law goes on to define cyberbullying against a student as behavior that:
- causes a student to feel reasonable fear of harm to body or property;
- interferes with academic performance and educational benefits;
- or disrupts the daily order of the school.
This behavior can include the use of:
- and instant messages.
Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying comes in many forms, including:
- threats and intimidation;
- physical violence;
- sexual, religious, or racial harassment;
- destruction of property;
- public or private humiliation;
- or social exclusion.
What are the Effects of Online Bullying?
Similar to other forms of harassment, online bullying can have serious consequences for the victim, including:
- physical and psychological stress;
- physical and emotional health issues;
- poor grades;
- refusal to attend school.
Did Your Child’s School Refuse to Take Action?
In an effort to try to reduce the frequency of cyberbullying in Florida, all schools are required to adopt and enforce anti-bullying policies. Any school that does not respond appropriately to this harassment may be held liable for violating the civil rights outlined by the Department of Education.
Each policy must fit the guidelines set by the Department, which includes:
- banning bullying during school activities, on school buses, and on school-owned devices;
- banning retaliation for reporting bullying;
- detailing the type of behavior that is banned;
- setting up procedures for reporting, investigating, and counseling.
An important factor to note is that the bullying doesn’t have to occur on school property for schools to take action. The school needs to take action if the harassment:
- affects your child’s ability to participate in and benefit from school activities or opportunities;
- disrupts the education process or the school’s operations.
Furthermore, Florida cyberbullying law states that anyone—teachers, students, staff, or parents—who reports an instance of bullying in good faith is immune from a civil lawsuit for damages associated with the report. In other words, you can’t be sued for reporting a cyberbully.
What Are the Legal Consequences for Bullying?
While I refer in this post to the Florida cyberbullying laws, it’s important to note that Florida does not classify cyberbullying as its own crime. Instead, Florida considers cyberbullying a crime of stalking. Both misdemeanor and felony cyberbullying are punishable with prison time, fines, or both.
As such, cyberbullying can be considered a felony crime if the person committing the crime is a threat to the victim. A felony could lead to:
- 5 years of prison time,
- A $5,000 fine.
Misdemeanor cyberbullying falls under the umbrella of harassment, which occurs when one person willfully cyberstalks another person repeatedly with malicious intent. A misdemeanor could lead to:
- 1 year of prison time,
- A $1,000 fine.
Take Legal Action Against Bullying
Now that you understand what cyberbullying is and how Florida cyberbullying laws punish it, talk to your kids.
If you suspect that your child has been the victim of cyberbullying, contact RRBH Law for a fully confidential evaluation. Don’t let your child fall victim to this crime. Call 305-800-HURT.