The internet plays a significant role in the social life of young children and teens. Unfortunately, online communication can go sideways quickly. What starts as a poorly worded joke or prank can turn into a criminal court case. We often represent clients accused of computer crimes.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cyberbullying consists of mean-spirited electronically posted messages about a person. These messages are often anonymous, taking place online or through text messages.
Pennsylvania state schools have policies related to bullying incorporated into the school’s code of conduct. These policies include the disciplinary consequences for those who participate in such activities. Unlike schoolyard bullies, who are often easy to identify, cyberbullies hide behind fake user profiles and anonymous accounts. Examples of electronic bullying include the following:
- Harassing instant messages
- Derogatory phrases or questions attached to online pictures of students
- Putting up websites with jokes, stories and images that ridicule others
- Sending vicious, threatening or cruel emails
- Using someone else’s electronic account to send incriminating emails to others
Depending on the circumstances, prosecutors may file cyberbullying cases as harassment or stalking charges.
There is often a thin line between threatening speech and a strong expression of opinion. The First Amendment protects your right to free speech. Characterizing communications as personal expression makes it legally permissible. However, the effectiveness of this defense depends on the phrasing and context of the electronic message.
Another approach involves demonstrating that a reasonable person would not find the communication emotionally harmful or threatening. The defense depicts the other person as being over-sensitive. In both options, intent plays an important role. The unique circumstances of your case dictate which approach can minimize the potential damage the best.