North Carolina bullying laws apply to cyberbullying and to school boards. Bullying of minors has always been a problem. Most adults can recall name calling and playground fist fights when growing up. Before 1999 bullying was generally resolved by the students themselves. In the last fifteen years violence against minors and suicides by minors have increased. As a result the public’s view of bullying has changed.
Bullying can have many negative consequences. According to an article published by Dr. Mark Dombeck, PhD, short term effects can include lower academic performance, personal injury, anger, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Long term effects can include low self-esteem, interpersonal difficulties, and difficulties with trust.
Children are now confronted with internet bullying. This cyberbullying is a common method for bullies to harass their victims. Cyberbullying can include tweets, Facebook posts, and harassing emails. In 2011, a study by the National Institute of Health found that 18% of the students at a Chapel Hill North Carolina high school reported being the target of cyberbullying. Increased access to the internet through home computers, tablets, and smart phones will result in more cyberbullying.
NC Cyberbullying Laws
Today in North Carolina, school boards are required by state law to adopt anti-bullying programs.
In an effort to reduce the incidents of cyberbullying, the North Carolina legislature criminalized cyberbullying in 2009. (N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-458.1). This law criminalizes activities such as posting images of a minor on the internet, making statements intended to harass the minor, and building fake websites or profiles with the intent to torment or intimidate a minor. If the offender is over 18 years of age, the offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If the offender is under age 18, then the offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
NC Cyberbullying Laws and the Courts
The validity of the North Carolina cyberbullying statute has recently been upheld. In April, 2015, the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered the case of State v. Robert Bishop. Mr. Bishop, a high school student in Alamance County, was accused of cyberbullying a class mate in 2011. The victim’s mother found him crying in his room and discovered highly offensive Facebook posts about her son. Mr. Bishop admitted to law enforcement that he posted vulgar and graphic statements about his victim on Facebook, including threats of physical violence.
A jury convicted Mr. Bishop of violating the North Carolina cyberbullying statute. Mr. Bishop appealed his conviction claiming that his Facebook posts were protected free speech pursuant to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The North Carolina Appeals Court rejected this argument, noting that “Cyberbullying statute is not directed at prohibiting the communication of thoughts or ideas via the Internet. It prohibits the intentional and specific conduct of intimidating or tormenting a minor”. Further, the court concluded, “harassment is not communication, although it may take the form of speech”.
Mr. Bishop, who was 16 at the time, received four years of probation, over $2,000 in fines, and was ordered not to use Facebook or other social media sites for at least one year.
Mr. Bishop’s case was the first conviction in North Carolina under they cyberbullying statute. Hopefully it will serve as a deterrent to others who may be tempted to use the internet to harass and intimidate their minors.
In addition to facing criminal charges, minors who are guilty of cyberbullying may also face liability for personal injuries. These personal injuries include the intentional inflicting of emotional stress. Parents of bullies who encourage their children to bully other children may also face liability.