Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok
  • Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices
  • Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet
  • Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit
  • Email
  • Online gaming communities

Federal Laws

Although no federal law directly addresses bullying, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. When bullying and harassment overlap, federally-funded schools (including colleges and universities) have an obligation to resolve the harassment. When the situation is not adequately resolved, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division may be able to help.

What Is Cyberbullying in California?

Harassing, intimidating, or annoying another person via electronic communications is considered “cyberbullying.” Cyberbullying is a crime in California under certain circumstances.

Criminal Cyberbullying

California law makes two types of online or electronic conduct crimes.

Posting Personal Information to Cause Fear

Any person who electronically posts or transmits:

with the intent to cause the other person to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of family members commits a misdemeanor crime in California. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653.2.)

Use of Electronic Device to Harass

Any person who uses a telephone or any electronic means of communication to contact another person and:

  • uses obscene language, or
  • makes a threat to injure the person or property of the other person or a family member

with the intent to annoy the other person commits a misdemeanor crime in California. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653m.)

How is Criminal Cyberbullying Punished in California?

Both types of cyberbullying outlawed in California are misdemeanors. A person convicted of a misdemeanor in California faces a sentence of not more than one year in jail, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653.2.)

Obligations of Schools

Under the California Safe Place to Learn Act (“Act”), all schools in the state must adopt policies and procedures to prevent and address student-on-student harassment, intimidation, or bullying based on “actual or perceived characteristics” of the victim student. (Cal. Edu. Code § 234.)

Schools within the University of California system are also required to establish anti-bullying policies and procedures. (Cal.Edu. Code § 66302.)

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