Cyberbullying and Electronic Harassment through Facebook and Twitter

Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking websites have grown at a shocking rate, especially among youth. Students using social networking to create fake identities and profiles can lead to legal and disciplinary issues at school if those fake profiles are used to impersonate or bully others. Some examples of this behavior from the news are: creating a false Facebook profile for a 6th grader and used it to make violent threats; creating a fake Facebook page impersonating another student and using it to bully her; setting up false Twitter accounts for a school principal and tweeting offensive comments before the account was shut down.

Similar behavior can now be deemed illegal under state cyberbullying laws or even cyber-impersonation and identity-theft laws. Thirty-eight states, including Maryland and DC, have anti-bullying laws. Maryland’s law prohibits bullying, harassment, and intimidation, but it is up to individual schools to establish policy for punishment. The DC anti-bullying law includes a ban on electronic forms of harassment.

There are many questions surrounding the legal authority to punish a student for creating or using fake online identities. Does the school have clear policies in place? Was the fake profile created off-campus? Was another student targeted? Was there potential for a criminal offense to occur? Did the social networking website give the school identifying information without a subpoena being issued? Was the victim’s education significantly disrupted? Did the school already administer punishment? This area of law is still developing, and there are ways to try and work with your school to avoid the juvenile or criminal justice system.

If you or your child has been charged or disciplined at school for bullying, contact the Law Offices of Christopher L. Peretti today at 301-875-3472 to speak with an experienced attorney that can help you move forward.

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