Cyberbullying Laws in Florida
Cyberbullying amongst teens is a considerable issue nationwide. In Florida, it is even considered a crime. The Florida legislature has passed laws that help prevent cyberbullying and hold those who bully others online accountable.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue affecting today’s youth. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that approximately 59 percent of U.S. teens have experienced at least one type of abusive online behavior. The top three are offensive name-calling, false rumors, and unsolicited explicit images.
However, cyberbullying occurs in all age groups. In another survey of 10,093 American adults, conducted by the Pew Research Center from September 8–13, 2020, researchers concluded that 41 percent of U.S. adults had experienced some form of online harassment, including physical threats, stalking, and sexual harassment.
Florida has laws in place to prevent and decrease the occurrence of cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying?
The American Psychological Association describes cyberbullying as someone using technology to demean, inflict harm, or cause pain to another person. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets.
Under Florida Statute 1006.147, cyberbullying is “bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication.” This includes any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence through email, instant messages, Internet communications, or faxes.
What actions constitute cyberbullying?
Florida law characterizes bullying and cyberbullying as systemically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and psychological distress, involving:
- Social exclusion
- Public or private humiliation
- Sexual, racial, or religious harassment
Creating a webpage or blog to impersonate another person and distributing or posting harmful content by electronic means also constitute cyberbullying.
Where does cyberbullying occur?
According to stopbullying.gov, cyberbullying is most common through:
How to Identify Cyberbullying
Signs of cyberbullying can take many forms. Cyberbullying.org lists the warning signs that your child may be the victim of cyberbullying:
- Appears nervous or jumpy when using their devices
- Unexpectedly stops using their devices
- Appears angry or depressed after using their devices
- Oversleeps or does not sleep enough
- Seems withdrawn, depressed, or secretive
- Asks to go home “ill” from school frequently
Conversely, if your child is cyberbullying another person, they may exhibit the following warning signs:
- Quickly switches screens or hides their devices
- Gets upset if they can’t use their device
- Has multiple accounts or an account that is not their own
- Exhibits increased behavioral problems, insensitivity, or callousness
- Appears concerned with popularity and fitting in
- Demonstrates violent tendencies
By knowing what to look for, you can play a part in preventing cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying and Cyberstalking
It involves communicating directly or indirectly with the person through electronic means and accessing online accounts or Internet-connected systems without permission that cause the person substantial distress with no legitimate purpose.
- Sending excessive or threatening messages
- Posting harmful or false information online
- Monitoring the location and activities of the victim
Is cyberstalking a crime?
In the state of Florida, cyberstalking is a punishable crime. A person who commits the offense of stalking is subject to a misdemeanor in the third degree.
If the perpetrator makes a credible threat to the victim and commits the offense of aggravated stalking, they are subject to a felony of the third degree.
A person who commits the offense of aggravated stalking of a child under 16 years old is subject to a felony of the third degree.
Cyberbullying in Florida Schools
Under Florida law, cyberbullying of a student or employee of a public K–12 school is prohibited in the following scenarios:
- During education programs or activities
- During school-related or school-sponsored programs or activities
- On the school bus
- Through the use of data or computer software on school premises
- Through the use of data or computer software at another location that disrupts the school’s education process or operation or interferes with the victim’s ability to perform academically or partake in school activities or opportunities
Florida School Bullying Policies
Every school district in Florida must implement an anti-bullying and harassment policy that needs to be reviewed at least every three years. It must align with the Department of Education’s policy.
The policy must follow a set of criteria to be legitimate. For example, it has to define bullying, harassment, and related terms and the type of behavior expected from the faculty and students. Other elements that must be included:
- The consequences for faculty and students engaging in bullying or harassment
- A procedure for receiving bullying and harassment reports and the investigation into the allegations
- A procedure for notifying the parents of the victim and local agencies if criminal charges are sought
- A procedure for referring bullying victims and offenders to counseling to preserve mental health
- Protection from retaliation against a person who reports suspected bullying
Florida categorizes cyberbullying under bullying. Therefore, these same factors apply to cases of cyberbullying.
Florida Statute 1006.147 states that any school employee, student, volunteer, or parent who reports bullying in compliance with the school’s policy is immune from a civil lawsuit for making the report.
Is cyberbullying a crime in Florida?
Cyberbullying can be a misdemeanor or felony in Florida and is considered a misdemeanor without a threat of harm. It becomes a felony when a threat is made. If the victim feels that their well-being or the well-being of a loved one is in danger, law enforcement considers the event a threat.
Under Florida law, a person convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying may face a prison sentence of up to one year, a fine of as much as $1,000, or both.
A person convicted of felony cyberbullying may face a prison sentence of up to five years, fines as high as $5,000, or both.
Cyberbullying Charges for Minors
If a minor — a person under the age of 18 — is convicted of cyberbullying, the charges are different. It would be considered a delinquent act, the same as a criminal act for an adult. They would go to juvenile court for their punishment, which would be more focused on education and rehabilitation.
A minor will be charged as an adult only in extreme cases of cyberbullying.
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Matthew P. Bergman
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