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Cyberbullying and minors

In the U.S., parents, teachers and other observers have spent a great deal of time discussing bullying in recent years. Anybody who was ever bullied as a child remembers what it feels like: the fear, shame and sense of isolation.

Nowadays, bullying has moved online. Known as “cyberbullying,” this refers to using the Internet and mobile technology like smartphones to harass, intimidate or harm someone else. For example, the bully might send nasty or threatening Facebook messages or emails to his or her victim.

This form of bullying does not involve physical assault or audible teasing used in traditional schoolyard bullying. But this does not mean the impact is any less terrible for the victim. Due to the nature of social media, hundreds of people might witness the online bullying, magnifying the victim’s shame, and possibly encouraging others to gang up on him or her.

In response, many states have passed laws outlawing bullying. Many times, enforcement is left to school officials, and cyberbullying is treated as a civil matter, instead of a crime. But in extreme cases of cyberbullying, such as where the victim committed suicide, some prosecutors have charged individuals with a crime.

This means the stakes for the minor accused of cyberbullying are much higher than a potential suspension or expulsion from school. Depending on the circumstances, the prosecution may try to get the defendant charged as an adult. This could make lengthy incarceration a real possibility. Any minor charged with cyberbullying needs a vigorous legal defense to protect his or her rights.

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