The power of technology nowadays is undeniable. From using Yelp to quickly find a new restaurant in your area to posting pictures of your latest vacation, technology seems to know no limits.

Unfortunately, the rise of technology has also led to extreme consequences, one of which is cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is defined as “the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.”

Typing behind the protection of an electronic screen has given adolescents a false sense of security in making comments that are more threatening than ever before. In extreme cases, cyber bullying has been known to lead to suicide.

So what exactly is cyber bullying doing to our communities, and what are ways to fight it?

How Cyber Bullying Affects Our Youth

Where students were once able to escape bullies in their home, bullying has become a nonstop problem. One peer can make a comment and it will escalate into a whirlwind of hurtful comments that is seen instantaneously.

Along with the 24/7 presence, comments have become increasingly hurtful due to the anonymity of the Internet.

But what happens when adolescents cannot escape the continuous harassment? Kids who are bullied are likely to “experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, unhappiness and poor sleep,” explains Dr. Jennifer Caulde, an American Osteopathic Association board-certified family physician in Philadelphia.

Children are also more likely to experience decreased academic achievement and school participation.

In a tragic case, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after constant online harassment from classmates — alerting shocked parents across the nation to the insidious dangers of being victimized by cyber bullying.

The online harassment Prince received on various social media accounts had gone farther than the taunting on the playground. The bullying had entered her home and she could not escape the “mean girls” at her school. Sadly, it resulted in her taking her own life.

Cyber bullying is inescapable. At anytime, anywhere, someone can be harassed over the Internet. It goes unnoticed from the authorities, unless it is specifically sought after, making it harder to prevent the bullying from continuing.

Furthermore, what few teenagers realize is how permanent the Internet is. Once a picture or comment is posted, it remains on the Internet forever and for anyone to see. College freshman Tyler Clementi learned the hard way how permanent a video could be when his roommate set up a video camera and caught Clementi in an intimate act and showed his peers on the Internet.

The harassment Clementi received went so far that he also took his own life to avoid the continuous ridicule and embarrassment.

In Los Angeles County, officials have seen an increase in suicide of 100 percent from 2014 to 2015. Deanne Tilton Durfee, executive director of the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN)​, stated that the youngest youth to kill himself was an 11-year-old who hanged himself after he had reportedly been bullied.

She added that while fewer children are dying in gang violence in Los Angeles, bullying and cyber bullying are on the rise, leading to an extremely concerning suicide rate. The rates are so serious, that insurance companies like Chubb are beginning to offer optional cyber bullying coverage for homeowner insurance clients.

Is Cyber Bullying a Crime?

The answer is yes. While the negative consequences of cyber bullying cannot be reversed, the legal system has several ways to punish perpetrators.

Cyber bullying can be criminally prosecuted under Penal Code § 653.2, which states that a person can be charged for harassing another through means of electronic communication that causes a person to fear their safety.

Did you know that impersonating another on the Internet without their consent is also a crime? Under Penal Code § 528.5 — Internet Impersonation — it is a crime to knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another person through or on a website or by other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud another person.

Where cyberbullying rises to the level of threats of death and great bodily injury and causes someone to fear for their personal safety, it can be charged as felony violations of Penal Code § 646.9(a) — Stalking and Penal Code § 422 — Criminal Threats.

What Can the Community Do to Prevent Cyber Bullying?

Many have questioned whether a police officer assigned to a school may or may not search a student’s cell phone while on school grounds. Legally, the answer is yes, the officer can. In New Jersey v. TLO (1985) 469 U.S. 325, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school official (teacher, administrator, principal, vice-principal, etc.), with reasonable cause, can seize and search phones.

While it is important that school officials aid in the prevention of cyber bullying, what is more important is what parents can do. It is imperative that parents spread awareness of online safety and the issues of sexting. It is important to speak with your children about the damage the Internet can cause and teach them how to use the Internet properly.

Communication is the key to prevention; don’t wait for the perfect time to break the ice, be proactive and talk to your kids about cyber bullying.

What You Can Do

Here are a few tips to help get parents started …

» Place your computer in a common area of the house

» Educate yourself about computers, “smart-phones” and the Internet

» Spend time with your children online

» Educate yourself and your children about the dangers of the Internet

» Do not allow your child to go into private chat rooms, especially when you are not present 

» Utilize your Internet service provider’s parental controls and commercial blocking and filtering software tools

» Review the use histories or logs of your computer to see where your children have been

» Develop a “contract” with your children about their Internet usage to established reasonable rules and limits; for examples of contracts, feel free to contact Horowitz Law

Parents also need to be aware of the possibility that their child is being cyber-bullied. Different signs include but are not limited to …

» Spending more or less time online

» Avoiding school or activities

» Frequently switching screens when someone walks into the room

» Appears depressed

More Information and Resources

» Click here for suicide prevention resources that are available 24/7

» The Center for Parenting Education

» National PTA

» Safe Kids

— Sanford Horowitz is a partner with Horowitz Law in Santa Barbara.  The opinions expressed are his own. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. For legal advice on any of the information in this post, click here for the form or phone number on the Horowitz Law contact us page.