How Serious Is Cyberbullying? What Are the Laws in Texas?

Cyberbullying Is a Serious Criminal Offense in Houston

Most adults can tell stories of their childhood experiences dealing with a schoolyard bully who found pleasure in intimidating other children. Methods of dealing with problem have changed dramatically in Houston and throughout Texas from the days when children were told to deal with the problem by standing up to the bully.

Bullying is now seen as a problem, not just for the child who is the victim, but it is also a problem for the child who resorts to aggressive behavior. School and government officials have taken steps to deal with the growing problem of bullying.

Cyberbullying in Houston

Houston bullying is addressed under several state laws. Some of those laws restrict themselves to conduct occurring between students. The punishment for violation of bullying laws pertaining to schools is usually limited to detention, suspension or transfer of the victim and the aggressor to different classrooms or to different schools.

Criminal law violations are not restricted to conduct between students or conduct committed on or related to school property or school activities. The criminal statutes are worded in a manner that allows them to be applied to anyone, regardless of age, who violates them.

Although cyberbullying and bullying are not specifically defined under the criminal laws in Texas, the state’s education code does offer a definition that school officials may use. Under the code, bullying is conduct that threatens or causes physical harm to a student through any of the following means:

  • Written or verbal statements
  • Electronic communication, such as emails, social media and text messages
  • Physical conduct

Violations of the education code sections addressing bullying and cyberbullying carry with them discipline as handed out by school officials. Each school district sets its own policies discipline in keeping with the education code.

Houston Criminal Laws Related to Bullying and Cyberbullying

The criminal laws do not directly address either bullying or cyberbullying by offering a specific definition of either act. Instead, bullying and cyberbullying are prosecuted by proving that the conduct violates existing criminal statutes.

Harassment is a criminal offense in Houston. It takes place when a person engages in conduct that does any of the following when directed at another person:

  • Communicating an obscene proposal with intent to do so
  • Threatening to inflict bodily harm in a way to causes the other person to become alarmed
  • Repeatedly makes anonymous calls to annoy or torment
  • Repeatedly sending electronic communications to annoy, harass, alarm or annoy

Online impersonation is another criminal offense under state law in Houston. It occurs when someone creates a fake page on a social networking website claiming to be the victim. It may also occur when someone posts or sends messages on the Internet or social media pretending to be the victim. Online impersonation is either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances and facts surrounding the conduct.

There is a criminal offense in the Texas Education Code that can be used to prosecute someone for bullying. Engaging in disruptive activities is a misdemeanor and takes place when someone does any of the following by using or threatening to use force:

  • Preventing people from moving freely through a school
  • Preventing other individuals from engaging in school activities such as assemblies
  • Preventing someone from entering or leaving a school

Cyberbullying Comes in Many Forms

Cyberbullying has been linked to the death of teenagers who committed suicide after being subjected to embarrassing and cruel posts on social media websites. Emails, text messages, comments left on social media sites such as Facebook and fake web pages are just some of the methods used by those seeking to stalk, threaten and harass other people. Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to acts of cyberbullying.

Examples of specific acts of cyberbullying include:

  • Sending text messages that are cruel, mean or hurtful
  • Using social media and emails to spread lies and rumors about someone
  • Creating fake websites or social media pages under the name of the victim designed to cause embarrassment or humiliation

Cyberbullying presents a new “playground” within which the aggressor can hide behind the anonymity that exists on the Internet. Besides self-inflicted physical harm, the victims of attacks by a cyberbully may also:

  • Engage in alcohol and drug use
  • Suffer from lowered self-esteem
  • Experience poor grades
  • Experience increased school absences
  • Suffer from depression and other mental and physical health issues

Penalties for Houston Cyberbullying Violations

The most serious of the Houston cyberbullying offenses, online impersonation, is punished as a felony is punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of two years up to a maximum of 10 years and a fine up to $10,000. As a misdemeanor the offense is punishable by fines up to $4,000 and up to a year in prison. Disruptive activities under the education code carries with it the potential for up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000.

A Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Might Help

Houston law enforcement, prosecutors and courts take cyberbullying extremely seriously. If you have been charged with an offense related to cyberbullying, you need a Houston criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.

Contact experienced criminal defense attorney Matthew D. Sharp if you’ve been accused of cyberbullying or other internet crimes.