Is Cyberbullying a Crime in Florida?

One of the many actions that fall under the category of a harassment offense is cyberbullying. Florida is one of a few states that not only has a harassment statute but also clearly gives a definition for cyberbullying itself.

Bullying is an issue that goes back hundreds or even thousands of years, if you consider its basic definition: abusing a victim through physical, emotional, or other means in an attempt to gain power or superiority. Cyberbullying is a relatively new issue, however, one that was only made possible because of the Internet and social media.

Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have opened the door to an entirely new method of bullying. In fact, some believe that cyberbullying is more likely to occur than traditional bullying because the Internet adds a certain layer of anonymity, distancing the bully from the victim. Legislators do not believe that this distance lessens the impact felt by the victim, and this is evident in Florida Statutes.

Cyberbullying is a crime in Florida. Various statutes discuss bullying and harassment in general, and cyberbullying is specifically defined.

Under Florida's Stat. Ann. § 784.048 and § 1006.147, the key terms are as follows:

  • Harassment: actions that lack a valid intent, target someone, and inflict significant distress on that targeted individual (such as stalking). Harassment can be anything that places a person in fear for their life, well-being, or property. Harassment also interferes with a student’s education, benefits, or opportunities. Finally, harassment is something that causes a disruption at a school.
  • Cyberbullying: bullying that uses any form of electronic or technological messages, anything from emails to faxes, social media to blogs, and more.

When Is Cyberbullying a Crime?

Cyberbullying is most often associated with younger people, typically minors who are still in school. It can also occur in colleges as well, between young people who are technically adults because they are over the age of 18.

Cyberbullying can include the following:

  • Social exclusion
  • Teasing
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Physical violence
  • Sexual harassment
  • Humiliation
  • Destruction of property

Notably, Florida cyberbullying laws are designed to apply to situations on school campuses. However, Florida anti-bullying laws also cover off-campus conduct. The law bans people from limiting a victim’s ability to participate or benefit from activities, services, and other opportunities provided by a school.

Florida Cyberbullying Penalties

While cyberbullying is not outlined as its own offense with distinct penalties, cyberstalking is addressed in stalking statutes. If someone is convicted of harassment through cyberbullying, this could be either a misdemeanor or a felony conviction.

If someone is convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying, this could entail:

  • 1 year in jail, and/or
  • A $1,000 fine

If someone is convicted of a felony offense of cyberbullying, this could mean:

  • Five years in prison, and/or
  • A $5,000 fine

What Is the Difference Between Misdemeanor & Felony Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a misdemeanor without the threat of harm and becomes a felony when the person makes a believable threat. What makes a threat believable? This would be a threat issued through words or actions that makes the targeted person rationally feel that his or her well-being, or the safety of loved ones, is endangered. A person who perceives a threat will be considered rational if the suspect who issued the threat seemed to be able to follow through on the threat, and to have the desire to do so.

Minors & Cyberbullying Charges in Florida

The nature of cyberbullying and the fact that it’s often associated with schools or other youth activities means that minors can be charged. In Florida, cyberbullying charges will affect minors (people under the age of 18) in a different way. For a minor, cyberbullying would be a delinquent act, the equivalent of a criminal act for an adult. They would face proceedings in Juvenile Court, where penalties are aimed more at education and rehabilitation as opposed to strict punishment. Only in an extreme case would a minor face cyberbullying charges as an adult.

Facing Cyberbullying Charges?

Whether you are tried as a juvenile or an adult, you can face serious consequences if accused of the crime of cyberbullying in Florida. This is an area of law that has seen recent changes and will continue to see changes. In this uncertain legal environment, where your future is on the line, you can turn to Thomas & Paulk, P.A. to discuss your case with a Tampa criminal defense lawyer for free. Our firm knows that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. We’re ready to hear your side of the story and start developing a defense that will seek the best possible outcome for your case.

Don't hesitate to contact us today at (813) 321-7323. An initial consultation with our Tampa cyberbullying defense attorneys is free of charge.

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