Cyberbullying is a widespread phenomenon. This term refers to using the internet to intimidate, harass or harm another person. And while bullying is an age-old problem, it largely takes place online now rather than in-person. Cyberbullying often occurs on social media sites, text messages and emails.
But is cyberbullying a crime? While there is not a law explicitly prohibiting cyberbullying in Wisconsin, there may still be legal consequences for the act. Here are the laws that may apply to cyberbullying.
Bullying laws and regulations
Several Wisconsin statutes cover bullying in general. These laws are generally geared toward educational environments. For example, Wisconsin requires school districts to adopt policies that prohibit bullying. The laws also encourage the implementation of bullying prevention programs. But cyberbullying often takes place outside the context of school.
Prosecutors may be able to apply several laws to charge someone for cyberbullying, including:
- Unlawful use of a computer: This offense involves threatening, harassing or annoying someone via computer communications.
- Harassment: Criminal harassment may apply when there are at least two acts that severely intimidate or annoy a victim. Punishments for harassment can be serious, especially with the existence of aggravating factors, such as causing the victim to fear injury or death.
- Stalking: A cyberbully may face stalking charges for intentionally engaging in multiple acts that result in someone suffering emotional distress or fear of injury.
The exact laws that may apply depend on the unique factors of each case.
Consequences for cyberbullying
Punishments for cyberbullying can include fines, jail time, school punishment and civil lawsuits. Of course, the exact penalties depend on the details of the charges.
Defenses for cyberbullying charges
Someone dealing with criminal charges due to bullying has several possible defenses. For example, a defendant may claim the right of free speech. Another defense is to demonstrate the victim has an unreasonable reaction.