Cyberbullying Laws in Texas: How Anonymous Harassment is Stopped
- July 20, 2016
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
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Texas Cyberbullying Laws
Cyberbullying is a very serious issue that is affecting the safety and health of young people throughout the state of Texas. As the scope of this issue has increased, Texas lawmakers have taken decisive action.
New laws in Texas can be applied to cyberbullying cases in order to make arrests and initiate prosecution. Anyone who engages in cyberbullying may find themselves in a courtroom while facing the prospect of severe punishments.
What Is Cyberbullying?
It’s a sad truth that bullying is a big problem, especially for young people. Kids in grade school all the way through college may experience some form of harassment, mistreatment or bullying. This is nothing new, unfortunately. Schools and other youth institutions have been trying to curb the problem of bullying for many years.
Bullying in modern times no longer stops when the school bell rings. Kids today are constantly tuned into computers and smart devices that allow them to communicate with their peers 24/7. An unfortunate side effect of this constant connectivity is that it allows bullying to take place in cyberspace.
Bullying used to take the form of pushes, shoves and stolen lunch money on the playground. Cyberbullying can lead to threats, taunts and social pressure on Facebook and Twitter. At such a young age, many kids aren’t equipped to handle these situations when they get out of hand. That is when the law can get involved.
Defining the Problem
The Texas Educational Code spells out the definition of bullying that is used in schools across the state. According to this code, bullying is considered any action carried out by a student that:
- Causes physical harm to another student
- Damages the property of another student
- Puts another student in reasonable fear of harm
If any of these actions take place verbally, in writing, in an electronic communication or in a physical act, they may be considered bullying. Creating an environment that makes another student fearful or which disrupts the normal functions of a school or the ability of another student to learn and participate is also considered bullying.
Cyberbullying is simply bullying actions that take place online. So, any of the actions listed above which take place on social media sites, in emails or through text messages may be considered bullying.
For example, Christy follows Amanda around school threatening to beat her up and steal her iPhone. She does this several times every week for several months. Amanda is so afraid that she begins skipping school. Christy may be disciplined for engaging in bullying.
Suppose that, in another scenario, Christy does not physically follow or threaten Amanda in person. Instead, she posts threatening messages to her Facebook page every day for several weeks. She may still be disciplined for bullying because her actions can be considered cyberbullying.
How Cyberbullying Is Investigated
In 2011, Texas passed a law which requires schools throughout the state to create and enforce their own anti-bullying policies. As part of these policies, schools are required to listen to complaints from students and parents and notify police if a law is suspected of being broken.
When police receive these notifications, they can conduct interviews with students, parents and school staff to learn more. They may also use an online investigation team to study social media posts and emails for signs of potential criminal violations.
If the investigation determines that no laws have been broken, the school will be responsible for adjudicating the appropriate punishment. If a law has been violated, however, criminal charges may be filed.
In many cases, bullying on school campuses remains an issue for schools to handle. Often, these instances may be dangerous and serious while not actually violating any state laws. These cases can result in expulsion, suspension or additional penalties handled with the school environment.
In some cases, laws are violated by cyberbullying. This can include crimes like:
- Online Impersonation
- Disrupting A School Environment
For example, a person can be charged with a harassment if they use emails or text messages to harass, annoy, abuse or torment another person to the point that they fear for their safety or the safety of their property. This is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail.
Impersonating another student online to defame or harass them is a very serious crime. In some cases, this crime can be prosecuted as a felony offense.
A person who uses force or threats of force to prevent another person from moving through a school or attending school assemblies can be charged with disruptive activities. This is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail.
Anyone who has been accused of cyberbullying can hire a defense attorney to discuss possible legal strategies for a strong defense in court.
Is someone you know facing charges involving cyberbullying? Your best course of action is to hire an attorney that can help you navigate the law. Greg Tsioros is a Houston attorney who can do just that. Contact his office today at 832-752-5972.