A growing concern among parents and some legislators is the danger of cyberbullying. Reports of children committing suicide due to the taunts directed at them by online bullies led legislators in Tennessee to recently pass specific laws addressing the problem of cyberbullying and criminalizing such conduct.
According to legal experts, cyberbullying is defined as bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake social media profiles.
Tennessee legislators passed a bill in 2012 specifically designed to address the problem of cyberbullying. The law adds to the legal definition of harassment, the sending of an image through electronic means “with the malicious intent to threaten” another person. This new language is actually more restrictive than Tennessee’s first attempt at an anti-cyberbullying law. The previous version of the law said it was illegal to send electronic communications that were meant to frighten others, a fairly low hurdle to clear.
The revised state law was designed to protect victims of cyberbullying while also ensuring that the free speech rights of students remained intact. Rather than criminalize all nasty online remarks, the law focuses only on cyber- harassment that is intentionally threatening.
Minors who are found guilty of cyberbullying could be forced to do 30 hours of unpaid community service, a punishment that the bill’s sponsor says he hopes to make more severe in the future. A violation of the law by an adult would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in prison.