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Cyberbullying and Social Media

We have increasingly become a society connected through electronic communication. New challenges arise to ensure the well-being of all community members online. We must protect those in public schools especially. One such challenge is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has been more common due to the widespread student use of cell phones and social media platforms.

Modern tools, like the internet, can aid students in conducting research. But they can also open another platform for bullies. Cyberbullying, or bullying using electronic and online means, has increased exponentially. is a website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to this website, 16% of high school students experienced cyberbullying in 2019. Because cyberbullying occurs online, it poses unique problems for schools and bullying victims. Students can be taunted anytime and anywhere.

This article addresses cyberbullying and its effects on the school environment.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying encompasses any bullying behavior done through electronic devices. It may occur on school grounds, off campus, or on the school bus. As long as it involves students and negatively affects the school community, it's an issue for the U.S. Board of Education to address.

Cyberbullying occurs when a student teases, threatens, humiliates, or taunts another student electronically. Cyberbullying can occur on or off campus (or school property) if the bullying happens online. It can happen before, during, or after school hours. Cyberbullying can include:

  • Name-calling
  • Threats of bodily injury
  • Sexual harassment (includes sending unwanted sexual messages or pictures)
  • Derogatory comments about sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Impersonation (sometimes called "catfishing")
  • Spreading rumors or lies
  • Invasion of privacy (sharing the victim's photos, information, or personal messages)
  • Deception (revealing private or sensitive information)
  • Forwarding malicious messages
  • Hazing
  • Lewd online behavior

Cyberbullying may manifest in forums or other electronic platforms. It can occur on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It can also occur via text message, e-mails, online messages (or direct messages), and chat rooms. As a result, bullies can attack their victims online and at any time.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying significantly impacts student mental health. Here are some signs that may indicate a child is experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Changes in mood
  • Increased secrecy about online activities
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Unexplained absence or decline in school performance
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Signs of emotional distress
  • Unwillingness to participate in educational programs or extracurricular activities
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments
  • Unexpectedly stopping using their devices
  • Deleting social media accounts or changing profiles

Cyberbullying can create a hostile learning environment, compromising school climate and school safety. Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying sometimes leads to self-medication. This may lead to substance abuse. Victims may retaliate against their bullies or others with violence or similar bullying. Cyberbullying can, unfortunately, lead to victims suffering depression and low self-esteem. In extreme cases, incessant cyberbullying has even prompted some victims to commit suicide.

Cyberbullying and the Law

A federal law, Title IX, protects students from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also protects individuals from harassment related to their national origin.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. However, it does not protect harmful or harassing behavior. The right to free speech does not give a green light for bullying behavior. So, even off-campus behaviors that impact the school environment can be subject to disciplinary action by law.

Every state except Montana has passed a law against bullying. Nearly all of those states have extended their anti-bullying statutes to cover bullying through electronic means. Additionally, a large number of states explicitly ban cyberbullying. Schools are expected to take measures to ensure the safety of their students and the peaceful conduct of school activities. Therefore, in collaboration with school personnel, the U.S. Board of Education must take a firm stand against cyberbullying. They may do this through school rules, student discipline, and a school safety plan.

These laws are often implemented through student codes of conduct drafted by school districts and schools. As a result, cyberbullying policies often vary by state and by individual schools within the same state. Schools often have strict disciplinary measures for cyberbullying. This can include possible suspension, afterschool detention, and expulsion. The disciplinary action to be taken depends on the severity of the acts.

In some cases, cyberbullying may be punishable by criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, cyberbullying may qualify as criminal harassment or stalking. This opens the perpetrator to criminal liability. Additionally, a few states explicitly criminalize some instances of cyberbullying. Louisiana, for example, punishes cyberbullying committed by children aged 17 or older. They must pay a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

Preventing Cyberbullying

Maintaining a positive school climate requires crucial prevention measures. Staff members must undergo training to recognize signs of cyberbullying. Upon recognizing cyberbullying, they should address it promptly. They must educate students about the implications of their actions. They should also encourage bystanders to report any instances of cyberbullying to school staff.

Parents are usually the best people to intervene and prevent cyberbullying. Community members should take an active role in their children's online lives. They should be aware of their children's online activity. Parents can do this by requesting their children's passwords and creating their profiles. They can also do this by "friending" or "following" their children on social media.

Another option for parents is to create rules for their children's social media use. They should help them understand the ramifications of their online activities. The community can collaborate through open discussions and workshops. This can help maintain a respectful school environment. Parents who think their kids are being cyberbullied should report it immediately. Parents may also report cyberbullying to service providers and social media platforms. They can advocate for the offending content to be taken down.

When cyberbullying constitutes a crime, parents should report it to law enforcement. This may be appropriate in situations where there are threats of violence. Parents should keep evidence of cyberbullying. Law enforcement officials or school administrators may need these documents in the future.

When To Get Legal Help for Cyberbullying

Knowing when to get legal help is important. If you or your child is suffering from cyberbullying, you may need help from a legal professional. This may happen when school interventions have not been successful. Or when the cyberbullying has led to severe emotional distress or physical harm.

An attorney concentrating in education or cyber law can help guide you. They can help you navigate the legal landscape of free speech, privacy rights, and school policy. A lawyer can help you understand whether any federal laws or civil rights statutes have been violated. They can advise you on potential legal remedies, ranging from restraining orders to lawsuits.

Seeking legal help can be a significant step toward stopping cyberbullying. This can help ensure appropriate disciplinary actions are taken. For more information, visit FindLaw's Discrimination at School section.

Getting Legal Help With Cyberbullying

When prevention measures and school disciplinary actions fail, it may be necessary to seek legal help. Legal professionals can guide you through the legal complexities of cyberbullying. Victims of cyberbullying or school officials trying to protect their students should know about their federal and state laws. A lawyer can help.

Talk to an education lawyer about your cyberbullying case today.

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