Cyberbullying can occur among adults, but in many cases, it’s middle school and high school students who face cyberbullying charges in St. Petersburg. The offense involves the use of computers, cell phones, and social media websites to threaten, harass, annoy or humiliate another person. It does not have to be a physical threat but can involve communicating images or text that depicts or implies the victim participating in humiliating acts. Sharing extremely personal or confidential information online or through text that the victim did not want to reveal can lead to cyberbullying charges.
There has been much debate throughout the U.S. as to whether cyberbullying is a definite crime. But Florida prohibits student cyberbullying when using Internet-based technology or any electronic communication to threaten or intentionally humiliate another student, teacher or administrator [Fla. Stat. § 1006.147].
Cyberbullying among School Children
Under Florida law, cyberbullying of any student or employee of a public K-12 school is prohibited. Offenses that may be considered cyberbullying include willful actions that:
- Place a student or educator in reasonable fear of personal harm or damage to his or her property.
- Significantly interfere with the student’s or educator’s ability to perform his or her duties or enjoy normal personal or professional benefits and opportunities afforded to them.
- Substantially disrupt orderly school functions.
Common cyberbullying behavior includes teasing, social exclusion, sexual, religious or racial harassment, humiliation, threats, and intimidation. If unchecked, it can lead to violence, theft and destruction of property.
Because of the prevalence and awareness of school-related bullying – including cyber – all Florida public K-12 schools must institute and enforce an anti-bullying policy that conforms to the state’s Department of Education guidelines. Each school’s policy must:
- Prohibit bullying during any school activity, event, or transportation to or from an event and on school-owned computers.
- Specifically outline all prohibited behavior and the consequences of policy violations.
- Establish investigatory procedures — channels for students to report violations and for teachers to report violations they receive or observe to administrators.
- Notify parents or guardians of students accused of – or targeted by – bullying.
- Establish procedures to refer victims and offenders to appropriate counseling.
- Prohibit retaliation against those who report bullying.
Adult Cyberbullying (Harassment)
Florida law defines “harassment” as a course of conduct serving no legitimate purpose, which is directed at a specific person, resulting in that person’s substantial emotional distress [Fla. Stat. § 784.048].
A person who commits an act of bullying by use of an electronic device can be charged with the specific crime of cyberbullying, which can include:
- Federal civil rights violations;
- Federal terroristic threats;
- Criminal harassment; and
- Domestic violence (Internet “cyber”-stalking).
A person convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying faces a possible jail sentence not to exceed one year, a fine not to exceed $1,000 or both [Fla. Stat. §§ 775.082 & 083]. One who is found guilty of felony cyberbullying faces a possible jail sentence of up to five years and a maximum fine of $5,000 [Fla. Stat. §§ 775.082 & 083].
If you or anyone you know has been accused of cyberstalking or cyberbullying, contact the defense team at Goldman Wetzel by calling 727-828-3900 or fill out an online contact form to arrange a free case evaluation.