Years ago, when many of us were in school, a bully was your worst nightmare. Today, things have definitely changed. Cyberbullying, defined as bullying that happens via digital devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets, can take the form of a private online message, a text message, a forum post or message, or through a gaming interface. Cyberbullying encompasses sending, sharing, or posting negative, false, harmful, or deliberately mean content about another person. Embarrassment or humiliation caused by the sharing of personal information about another person is also considered cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is pervasive, and it can be devastating to those being bullied.
Where Does Cyberbullying Occur?
You’re probably already aware of the importance of social media in our day-to-day lives. Sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are used by young and old to connect, converse, and share information and images with others. Email is a staple in most people’s lives for the same reason. Instant messaging apps create a quick and efficient way to communicate in real time. All of these together give cyberbullies a huge platform from which to abuse just about whomever they please, in myriad ways.
You may not even know the person bullying you. Often, we befriend people we don’t know on social media sites or apps and are therefore sharing personal information with complete strangers as well as the people we know and trust. Any content you share online – content being pictures, words, or videos – can be viewed by both groups of people. And this very personal look into your life can be just what a cyberbully needs to begin harassing you.
Anything you place into or onto an online platform basically builds a public record of information about you. Cyberbullies can use this information to threaten, harass, humiliate, or blackmail you. Because of the way cyberbullies work, there are some distinct concerns that are unique to cyberbullying, such as:
- It is persistent. Many of us stay logged in to social media sites 24 hours a day, and our phones are constantly dinging, telling us we have a text message or a personal message on Facebook. Electronic communication devices are so prevalent, that it is more common to be connected than not.
- It is pervasive. In fact, a 2013 survey of middle school students presented by Healthy Kids Colorado showed that 22.7% of students claimed to have been victims of electronic bullying during the previous 12 months. High school students responding to the survey claimed that 15.1% had been subjected to electronic bullying during the previous 12 months.
- It is permanent. We make a post on Facebook and forget about it. But that doesn’t mean it disappears. It is always there for people to notice, see, and use against us. If our reputation is tarnished online, it becomes public and permanent. This has far-reaching implications when it comes to employment, society, college admissions, and many other areas of life.
- It is difficult to recognize by authority figures. Parents, teachers, and trusted adults may not see or have access to a child’s social media accounts, phone, or email inbox. If they can’t see these things, there’s a good chance they don’t even know the cyberbullying is occurring.
The Crime of Cyberbullying in Colorado
In Colorado, it’s unlawful to harass or threaten bodily harm or damage to personal property through the use of a telephone, data network, text message, instant message, or computer network or system. Per Colorado Revised Statute § 18-9-111: “Anyone who uses any of the means of communication listed above to make an obscene comment, request, suggestion, or proposal also commits criminal harassment.”
This law is fairly cut-and-dried and was coined Kiana’s Law in 2015, named after the then-13-year-old cheerleader who attempted suicide after receiving harassing and vulgar text messages. Her attempt was unsuccessful, leaving her a paraplegic with severe brain injuries.
How is Cyberbullying Punished in Colorado?
A person convicted of harassing someone on the internet, whether it takes the form of a text message, email, social media post, or instant message, can be sentenced to up to 6 months in county jail, or a $750 fine , or both. Cyberbullying is a misdemeanor crime in Colorado.
Additionally, there may be civil remedies available to victims of cyberbullying, such as claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment, and defamation.
How to Report Cyberbullying
If you or your child is a victim of cyberbullying, it’s important to take the proper steps in documenting and reporting the behavior. Here are the steps to take:
- Stop responding to the cyberbully’s messages. Do not forward the messages to anybody. Block the individual or individuals from communicating with you if you can.
- Make a note of the date and time of the messages, and descriptions of any specific instances when the cyberbullying has occurred. You can save screenshots of emails, instant messages, text messages, and forum comments, and print them. This is important evidence and should be preserved.
- Use your screenshots or printed screenshots to report the cyberbullying to the online service provider where the bullying has occurred, such as Facebook, Instagram, email provider (such as Gmail), or forum owners.
- Report the cyberbullying to law enforcement if it involves any of the following, which are considered a crime:
- Threats of violence or bodily harm;
- Child pornography;
- Sexually explicit messages or photos;
- Photos taken in a location considered private (i.e. locker room, restroom, etc.);
- Cyberstalking or hate crimes.
- Contact an attorney knowledgeable about cyberbullying laws in Colorado, such as the attorneys at Marathon Law. We’ll listen to the details of your case and let you know exactly what your legal rights are.
- Finally, if the cyberbullying is happening to a child, be sure to report it to that child’s school. It is often the case that the victim personally knows the cyberbully or bullies. The child’s school administration can then address the problem in their policies.
Being the victim of cyberbullying can be terrifying, and you may not know where to turn. We can help. Contact Marathon Law today for a free, confidential consultation at (303) 704-1222 or online here.