Cyberbullying and State Law

Although bullying has long been a problem educators have faced, we are now seeing tragic results of taunting and bullying through social networking websites, text messages and other electronic means that were not available just a few years ago. School systems and state policymakers are beginning to look at measures to prevent cyberbullying and punish those who engage in it.

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The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”1

  • A study in 2010 showed approximately 20 percent of 11- to 18-year-old students were victimized and 10 percent reported they had been both an offender and a victim of cyberbullying.1
  • Outcomes of cyberbullying often include the victim feeling depressed, afraid or embarrassed to go to school, low self-esteem, academic problems, suicidal thoughts and, in extreme cases, suicide.1
  • Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying because sometimes the victim is unaware who the bully is or why he is being bullied. Also, the actions can be viewed by a much greater population than traditional bullying.1

Cyberbullying and lack of a positive school climate, in which students feel secure and valued, are connected.

  • Students who experienced cyberbullying perceived poorer school climates than those who had not experienced cyberbullying.1
  • A positive school climate contributes to improved attendance, higher student achievement and other desirable student outcomes.1
  • Although cyberbullying victims and their offenders often know one another from school, infractions often occur off school grounds and not during school hours, making it difficult for schools to deal with the issue.
  • The Federal Communications Commission announced in October 2010 it will issue an order that schools receiving subsidies for Internet service must teach students about the perils of cyberbullying and the responsible use of social networking sites. The FCC said the order would put its regulations in line with the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which subsidizes school Internet access.2

State boards of education and legislatures can play a role by adopting and implementing cyberbullying prevention policies. The Anti-Defamation League created recommended legislation that calls for states to:

  • Develop a model policy and training materials on the components for any district policy;
  • Periodically review school district programs, activities and services to determine whether the school boards are complying with this statute;
  • Compile and make available to all schools a list of programs to prevent harassment,  intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying of students;
  • Establish and maintain a central repository for the collection and analysis of information regarding harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying; and
  • Report to the state legislature annually on the current levels and nature of harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools and the effectiveness of school policies in combating harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying, including recommendations for other appropriate actions.3

As of August 2010, 44 states had statutes regarding bullying; 30 states addressed some form of electronic harassment.4


1 Hinduja, Sameer and Justin W. Patchin. “Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response.” Cyberbullying Research Center. (2010)
2 E-school News. “FCC Taking on Cyberbullying in Schools.” (October 29, 2010)
3 Anti-Defamation League. “Cyberbullying Prevention Law – An ADL Model Statute.” (May 2009)
4 Cyberbullying Research Center. “The Current State of Cyberbullying Laws.”