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Is Cyberbullying a Crime in California?

by Lindsay Chambers

October marks Bullying Prevention Month, a period dedicated to raising awareness about bullying and fostering environments of inclusivity. One form of stalking and harassment that has drastically risen with the rise of the internet and smartphones is cyberbullying, a modern phenomenon that makes it easy for bullies to remain anonymous and strike at any time.

While the image that comes to mind when we think of cyberbullying might be that of a teenager behind a keyboard, the reality is more encompassing. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey highlighted that a staggering 41% of American adults have been on the receiving end of online harassment. But the question many Californians ask is, “Is cyberbullying illegal in our state?”

What Constitutes Cyberbullying?

Before exploring the legal ramifications, it’s essential to understand what cyberbullying is. Some examples include:

  • Sending intentionally hurtful texts or IMs.
  • Making upsetting prank calls.
  • Hacking into someone’s online gaming or social networking profile to pose as them.
  • Using derogatory language or engaging in harmful behavior in online games.
  • Spreading secrets, rumors or lies about someone on digital platforms.
  • Posting private photos without the depicted person’s consent.
  • Impersonating someone online to spread malicious or hurtful messages.

California’s Cyberbullying Laws

California does not have one specific law against cyberbullying. However, the state is not blind to the issue. To ensure residents’ safety and mental well-being, state lawmakers have passed legislation encompassing online harassment and bullying. Most prominently, cyberbullying falls under California Penal Code 653.2.

Violating this code is a misdemeanor. The accused could face a fine of up to $1,000, a year in county jail or both.

Cyberbullying and Minors

The approach to cyberbullying varies slightly for minors. Children aged 17 and under who are guilty of crimes go through the juvenile court system, which focuses less on punitive measures and more on rehabilitation. The goal of juvenile court is to ensure the minor understands the consequences of their actions and avoids such behavior in the future.

However, in specific situations, minors aged 16 and older could find themselves transferred to adult courts, depending on the severity of the offense and other associated factors.

Experienced Legal Representation in Cyberbullying Cases

In the age of rapid digital communication, it’s more crucial than ever to be aware of the potential dangers of cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is not illegal at the federal level, California is among the many states that recognize the severity of the issue and have laws in place to deter such behaviors and offer justice to victims.

If you stand accused of cyberbullying, seek legal counsel to understand your rights and the available remedies. With over 45 years of experience as a California criminal defense attorney, Ronald G. Brower is here to guide you through every step, ensuring you get the representation you deserve. Contact us today to learn more.

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