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Cyberstalking, Cyberharassment and Cyberbullying Laws

In light of the circumstances, numerous states have enacted “cyberstalking” or “cyberharassment” laws or currently possess laws that specifically include electronic forms of communication within more traditional stalking or harassment laws. In addition, many states have enacted “cyberbullying” laws in reaction to issues related to protecting minors from online bullying or harassment.

Cyberstalking constitutes use of the world-wide-web (i.e., the Internet), electronic mail or other electronic communications to stalk. It generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. It may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm. Penalties range from misdemeanor to felony. See Cal. Civil Code § 1708.7, Cal. Penal Code § 646.9.

Cyberharassment is different from cyberstalking since it may not involve a credible threat. It usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting a person. Some state legislatures have dealt with this issue by inserting provisions which address electronic communications in general harassment statutes, while others have created stand-alone cyberharassment statutes. See Cal. Penal Code §§ 422, 653.2, and 653m.

However, cyberbullying and cyberharassment are used interchangeably sometimes. Generally, cyberbullying is used for electronic harassment or bullying amongst minors in the context of schools. Recent legislation seems to show a trend of placing the burden of enforcement of such policies on school districts. Hence, the laws establish the infrastructure for schools to handle this issue by amending pre-existing school anti-bullying policies to include cyberbullying or electronic harassment among children in educational environments. Most state laws enforce sanctions for cyberbullying on school property, school buses, or school functions. See Cal. Ed. Code §§ 32261, 32265, 32270, and 48900.