Cyberbullying Legislation


There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning proposed or recently passed state and federal legislation designed to address cyberbullying.  One particular bill, proposed by California Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez and called the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act,” was re-introduced in the House of Representatives last month (the proposal was initially introduced in May of 2008).  The Act amends Chapter 41 of title 18 of the U.S. Code to include the following: “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

While on paper this may sound good, we have some concerns about it.  Clearly we feel it is important for legislators to recognize the seriousness of cyberbullying and to do their part to help provide guidance and direction to local and state authorities confronted with cyberbullying.  As I have stated before, I am not convinced that a state or federal law which criminalizes cyberbullying is necessarily the best approach.  The vast majority of all cyberbullying can be effectively handled informally—by parents, educators, and other community members.  In the rare event that a cyberbullying incident rises to a level warranting criminal intervention, we already have existing laws which can be utilized (stalking, criminal harassment, felonious assault, etc.).

Many have commented on the potential for misinterpretation and misapplication with this law, and most lawyers we have spoken to (even those with expertise in this area) have reservations about this particular legislation.  Instead of trying to push something through (that already failed to gain momentum a year earlier), legislators should stop and work to develop a law that is reasonable, practical, constitutional, and informed by research.  Perhaps they could start by convening a group of experts (which should include educators, parents, and youth themselves), so that they can identify the real issues going on here.  The question really is: what kind of behaviors are we specifically trying to prevent?  And what kind of law is necessary to accomplish this?  As always, we look forward to your thoughts…


  1. Having grown up during the time period just before all this instant communication was available, I was not aware of cyberbullying as a real issue facing children until recently, when my brother-in-law was a victim. Thankfully, he's a smart kid who wasn't as emotionally affected as some others have been, and he made it through the experience in one piece. However, I understand there are a lot of teens that go through this and are emotionally scarred because of it.

    I'm not sure legislation is the right answer, but I do agree that something has to be done to stop cyberbullying. I can't imagine what those kids go through. It's so much worse than real-life bullying, as the bully can find his way into the victim's home through his or her cell phone, email address, or IM account. My heart goes out to all those who are victims.

    Perhaps education is the answer. Children are so much more advanced when it comes to technology than their parents. I feel that educating parents as to what is going on, and how to use the technology that their children have so readily latched on to, would help a great deal toward curbing this issue. Perhaps tech companies could get on board as well, educating parents and developing products and services that enable parents to monitor and protect their children.

    I work in the technology field. There has to be something we in the industry can do, outside of legislation, to help our kids grow up in a healthy, caring environment, whether that environment is real or online.

  2. People who get upset over cyberbullying are very strange. They must be new to the internet.

    Although there definately have been incidents where people threated to kill people on forums, and then carried through on the promise, lols ensued.

  3. Dude,seriously im a teen i go through people swearing on the the internet, cmon there not gonna hurt u seriously these kids r to emotinal, never oline date, what a retard……….

  4. Any legislation whose primary purpose is to limit our right to free speech makes me very nervous. Congresswoman Sanchez referred to it as "so-called free speech." It's not so-called; it is the most important right defined within our Constitution.

    A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Tina Meier at a conference where we were both speaking. Her story is very moving, and she tells it with passion. Your heart cannot help but go out to her. However, the law that convicted Lori Drew was grossly mis-applied, and I hope her conviction gets overturned. I am sorry if there is no other law to charge her with.

    I too wish there were sensible legislation that punishes the wrong doers, but leaves the rest of us in peace to yell at our representatives, urge boycotts of locals merchants, call the Yankees a bunch of bums…whatever manner we choose to be hostile to someone online.

  5. I have read everything that I can find on cyberbullying and one thing I find strange is that people talk like this is just a problem with teens. It is a sad fact but adults also do this and it is getting worse. I belong to a forum but I don't chat there anymore because there are 2 people that will call you bad names and make threats to anyone that dares to post there. You can post a message that says Good Morning and the nasty names start, then the threats. This is adults doing this and you can report them to the webmaster of that site but he never says anything to the guilty parties. The webmaster lets this go on all the time. I know one 16 year old girl who had to stop using this forum because they were calling her stupid and calling her nasty names. That is sad because the forum topics are about our state and local news. These people dig out any personal information on you that they can find (like photos of family) and post them without permission for all to see. They have even posted people's street and town address for anyone to see which could lead to someone going to that person's home and killing them!

    What should a person do about that besides leave the forum like I did? Reporting to the webmaster doesn't work. You can block that person but they still post personel info about you for others to read.

    Some people think that the webmaster IS one of the bullies !!

  6. Legislation is not the answer here people. If you all were being practical you would stop and think for a second. First of all, it is impossible to define cyberbullying; it's a moral issue and it's interpreted differently by everyone. Second, even if we did manage to create a law, how would we enforce it? Monitor every single person's computer? No, the better solution is to put that time and effort into programs that raise awareness and educate students, parents, and teachers. Cyberbullying is most often something that happens on a personal level, it needs to be dealt with accordingly.

    Also, it is sad but true that teenagers are the ones doing the cyberbullying (I happen to be one and I know). It is also true that children respond differently to punishments than adults. What would be better: creating a safe environment for children where they have someone they trust or fining them and sentencing them to jail time?

  7. Cyberbullying may be at the adult level as well, but the social circle of a teen or even college level student is a community within itself and is more likely to be read by all within that community (middle school or high school or college). You may talk about educating students and parents about cyberbullying and its affect, but it doesn’t stop the curiosity of those within the community. The affect on the receiver of the cyberbullying is compounded. No, we don’t need police monitoring but we do need action to be taken inaccordance with current laws and we need students and parents to report it. As a school administrator I take cyberbullying seriously. I have successfully worked with parents and the law to “Stop” the cyberbullying.

  8. I take cyber-bullying very seriously as well, and I'm currently trying to make a proposal for cyber-bullying this is by far a difficult one. I'm doing it for a class, and our professor knows some people on the legislature, would be nice if one of us could get a proposal at least thought about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *