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An awful social media game seems to have originated across the pond and made its way over to the US. Schools across the country are beginning to warn parents about a Snapchat "game" linked to cyberbullying. Schools are asking parents to caution their children against engaging in the game.
The game, called Letter X, is played on smartphones using the Snapchat app. The whole focus of the game, played by school kids, is to insult other kids by sending messages which can be photos and videos that include text or audio overlaid. One bully asks another to X a person, then multiple bullies gang up on the person who was X'ed. Then, the bullies compare and brag about which insults were the "best." This game essentially crowd-sources cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying Is Criminal
Naturally, school kids are among the meanest when it comes to insults. And sure, the First Amendment provides all sorts of leniency and leeway when it comes to mean, offensive, scary, and sometimes, maybe even obscene expressions. Unfortunately for the bullies that aren't just creatively, albeit rudely, bantering among friends or on their own Facebook page, most state laws have caught up with the times enough that cyberbullying can be legally punished. After all, there have been numerous cyberbullying incidents linked to suicides, and other physical injuries.
Additionally, many states have general laws against harassment. And cyberstalking laws are implicated when a service like Snapchat is used to send a person harassing, insulting, or offensive messages. Further, if the message contains a threat, or makes the person afraid for their safety, that could also considered criminal.
Civil Liability for Cyberbullying
There is likely civil liability for most cyberbullying activities regardless of whether there'd be criminal liability. While many of the criminal laws on harassment may require intent, and high burdens of proof, civil liability is simpler to prove.
If a victim of cyberbullying knows the identity of their bully, a civil lawsuit can potentially be filed. Bullying, even online, without physical touching, can often be considered intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is actionable in a civil court. Also, depending how the bullying occurs, there may be defamation liability as well.