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Cyberbullying

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Perhaps in response to news reports of teen suicides blamed on embarrassing and/or insensitive web postings, I have been fielding a fair number of calls about North Carolina’s cyberbullying statute. The statute, G.S. 14-458.1, was enacted in 2009 and applies to offenses committed on or after that date. S.L. 2009-551, sec. 3.

Subsection (a) sets out the elements of the offense. A person is guilty of cyberbullying when he or she uses a computer or computer network to do any one of the following six things:

(1) with the intent to intimidate or torment a minor

(a)       builds a fake profile or Web site;

(b)       poses as a minor in an Internet chat room or electronic mail or instant message;

(c)       follows a minor online or into an Internet chat room; or

(d)       posts or encourages others to post on the Internet private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor; or

(2) with the intent to intimidate or torment a minor or the minor’s parent or guardian

(a)       posts a real or doctored image of a minor on the Internet;

(b)       accesses, alters, or erases any computer network, computer data, computer program, or computer software, including breaking into a password protected account or stealing or otherwise accessing passwords; or

(c)       uses a computer system for repeated, continuing, or sustained electronic communications, including electronic mail or other transmissions, to a minor; or

(3) plants any statement, whether true or false, tending to provoke or that actually provokes any third party to stalk or harass a minor; or

(4) copies and disseminates, or causes to be made, an unauthorized copy of any data pertaining to a minor for the purpose of intimidating or tormenting that minor (in any form, including, but not limited to, any printed or electronic form of computer data, computer programs, or computer software residing in, communicated by, or produced by a computer or computer network), or

(5) signs up a minor for a pornographic Internet site, or

(6) without authorization of the minor or the minor’s parent or guardian signs up a minor for electronic mailing lists or to receive junk electronic messages and instant messages, resulting in intimidation or torment of the minor.

The new provision is in G.S. Chapter 14, Article 60, pertaining to computer-related crime. G.S. 14-453 contains the definitions that apply to that article; it defines the statutory terms computer, computer network, electronic mail, etc.

Punishment depends on the defendant’s age when the offense occurs. The offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor if the defendant is eighteen or older at the time of the offense. G.S. 14-458.1(b). If the defendant is under eighteen, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Id. The statute provides for discharge and dismissal of charges against defendants under eighteen, in certain circumstances, and for expunging the record if discharge and dismissal is ordered. G.S. 14-458.1(c)

Aside from questions about the elements of cyberbullying, another question that comes up is: “If cyberbullying doesn’t fit; what else can I charge?” The answer, of course, depends on the facts. Several related offenses include:

6 comments on “Cyberbullying

  1. For an interesting discussion of First Amendment concerns raised by a somewhat similar statute in another state, see this post: http://volokh.com/2010/07/09/its-now-a-crime-in-louisiana-to-electronically-communicate-with-intent-to-abuse-or-torment-a-minor/.

    • I read the Volokh article and the comments. I find it disturbing. One commenter addressed the why’s and the need’s to protect the kids online when they could just simply “delete” e-mail. It’s pretty hard to delete a video or a picture someone posts after its gone viral, but I’m not sure people get that. Homes used to be a safe haven for kids to escape from traditional bullying, but through technology, texts, social networking sites, and so forth just allow the abuse to continue. Not to mention, our online cyber bullies are protected by idiots arguing over petty details of the First Amendment and their computers, web cams, etc. allow them to spread things quickly and to a very large target audience…it also allows them an easy avenue of being something they’re not while hiding behind their computers instead of confronting the old fashioned way of face-to-face.

      If I am work and say “Merry Christmas” to someone, I could possibly get fired because I’ve “offended” someone…the same attorneys that would say I’m in violation are the same ones who say people should be able to write anything they want about another on the net and have protection from penalty after the fact. What??

      Most of these attorneys just argue for the sake of arguing and it’s about the win, not the case or the cause…I see more being done to defend those who do wrong than I do protecting those who do right. We defend authors like David Riegel and Phillip Greaves, but condem those like Megan Meiers who take their lives because they cannot cope with overwhelming humiliation. And we wonder why there is zero control over our youth, why kids bring guns to school, etc. It’s because we’ve taken the foundation they used to have and something to believe in and we’ve allowed defense attorneys and the defendants to run the country, all in the name of “Freedom of Speech.”

  2. This is a structured and factual statement of the legal process to be applied in the case of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is both dangerous and offensive, but is actually one of the easier forms of bullying to manage. As ‘K’ mentions above, by avoiding opening emails, texts and social netwotk postings, the victim can deny the abuser access for harmful purposes. Education as well as legislation is needed to help young people develop self-protective behaviours and skills online.I offer help and support for victims of bullying and cyberbullying and those supporting them. For free downloadable e-books and other resources go to my bullywatch website.

  3. What really bother me is that this statute only covers minors as if cyberbullying can only happen to a minor. In this day and age, everyone has a computer or a phone, facebook, instagram or twitter and that gives someone else the means to torment them. Bullying isn’t something that stops when someone turns 18. The statute shouldn’t be so set on minors because it can literally happen to ANYONE.

  4. I don’t see any update on this article acknowledging that North Carolina’s cyberbullying statute was declared unconstitutional and therefore void by the NC Supreme Court in _State vs. Robert Bishop._

    NC’s cyberstalking statute, a great device for taking political prisoners, is unconstitutional too. But judges and prosecutors have been careful to keep this ridiculous law out of the appellate courts by dismissing prosecutions or wheedling the defendant into a plea to another offense. Thus, NC’s cyberstalking law yields a conviction rate of about 10%, the last I checked with AOC, and falling.

    In Asheville when someone is charged under that scarecrow of a law, attorneys pepper the defendant with mail begging him to hire them. These lawyers know a money-making winner when they see one.

  5. […] a post here, I wrote about cyberbullying, a crime enacted in 2009. A related offense but one that generates far […]

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