Legal Issues

Figure 3: Legal Issues with cyberethics (Potter, 2012).

The CDC defines cyberbullying, or electronic aggression, as “bullying that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website, text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones” (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 2016). While preventing and understanding cyberbullying is extremely important for students, parents, and educators on multiple levels (moral, psychological, disciplinary), this section covers how courts have interpreted cases of cyberbullying in K-12 school systems.

The laws regarding cyberbullying and its consequences are constantly evolving. Schools, law enforcement, and the courts must grapple with accounting for harassing behavior that disrupts the educational process but occurs beyond school grounds. Students who bully others via digital media may be held legally accountable for harassment or juvenile delinquency, and schools may be held accountable for failing to take action in harassment cases (Bailey 2013; Hinduja & Patchin 2011). While the courts disagree on whether offensive or disruptive student activities that occur online outside of school grounds are protected under the First Amendment, certain types of speech are categorically not protected (Stone 2013). When off-campus digital speech “substantially or materially disrupt[s] learning; interfere[s] with the educational process or school discipline; use[s] school-owned technology to harass; or threaten[s] other students or infringes on their civil rights,” a student cannot claim protection under the First Amendment (Hinduja & Pachin 2011, p. 76). Administrators sometimes hesitate to become involved with off-campus incidents due to conflicting legal rulings with regard to scope. However, if any of these disruptions can be proved, school administrators have latitude to discipline students for off-campus behavior.

Annotated Bibliography Edit

Bailey, G. (2013) “Cyberbullying: Victimization through Electronic Means” Current Issues in Middle Level Education 18(1) pp. 1-7.

  • Bailey provides an overview of cyberbullying statistics and ethical issues, showing that it is most prevalent in middle school students and most often takes place outside of the school campus. Bailey concludes that schools will have to update their policies to address this and implement professional training programs that help educators and administrators identify signs of cyberbullying in students.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2011) “Cyberbullying: A Review of the Legal Issues Facing Educators” Preventing School Failure 55(2) pp. 71-78.

  • Hinduja & Patchin provide a history of harassment law in the United States, then discuss more recent first amendment cases involving students who have been suspended for online harassment. They outline a framework for how school administrators can respond to cyberbullying and prevent legal challenges by highlighting types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment.

MacKay, A.W. (2015) “Law as an Ally or Enemy in the War Against Cyberbullying: Exploring the Contested Terrain of Privacy and Other Legal Concepts in the Age of Technology and Social Media” University of New Brunswick Law Journal 66 pp. 3-50.

  • MacKay addresses the complex relationship between law and the pertinent need for educators to address cyberbullying in schools. Citing cases of suicide and identity-based bullying, MacKay discusses how the legal principles of privacy, free speech, liberty, and equality inform and complicate legal responses to cyberbullying.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2016) “Understand Bullying” Center for Disease Control. Retrieved from:

  • “Understand Bullying” is a fact sheet about bullying published by the National Center for Injury Prevention and control and published on the CDC website. The fact sheet helps parents and students understand the consequences of bullying and prevention methods, and addresses cyberbullying specifically.

Chris Potter (2012) Retrieved from:

Stone, C. (2013) “Cyber Bullying: Disruptive Conduct or Free Speech?” [ASCA School Counselor]. Retrieved from:

  • Stone addresses the conflict between free speech and protecting students from cyberbullying with particular attention to how school counselors should address cyberbullying among students at their institutions.

Willard, N. (2011) “School Response to Cyberbullying and Sexting: The Legal Challenges” Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal 3(1) pp. 75 - 125.

  • Willard discusses the complexities involved in balancing the First Amendment and the duty of school administration to protect students from harmful disruption of the learning process. Willard also cites sexting as a practice that has particular potential to lead to cyberbullying, as images can circulate easily among students.

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