Cyberbullying Laws in California

Cyberbullying is a crime in California. And every school in the state is required by law to institute policies against student-on-student bullying and cyberbullying.

This article discusses cyberbullying laws in California. For information about cyberbullying in general, see our article,  Teen Cyberbullying and Harassment.

What is Cyberbullying in California?

Harassing, intimidating, or annoying another person via electronic communications is considered “cyberbullying.” Cyberbullying is a crime in California under certain circumstances.

Criminal Cyberbullying

California law makes two types of online or electronic conduct crimes.

Posting personal information to cause fear

Any person who electronically posts or transmits:

  • personal identifying data of another person, or
  • a harassing message about another person

with the intent to cause the other person to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of family members commits a misdemeanor crime in California.  (Cal. Pen. Code § 653.2.)

Use of electronic device to harass

Any person who uses a telephone or any electronic means of communication to contact another person and:

  • uses obscene language, or
  • Makes a threat to injure the person or property of the other person or a family member

with the intent to annoy the other person commits a misdemeanor crime in California. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653m.)

How is Criminal Cyberbullying Punished in California?

Both types of cyberbullying outlawed in California are misdemeanors. A person convicted of a misdemeanor in California faces a sentence of not more than one year in jail, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653.2.)

Obligations of Schools

Under the California Safe Place to Learn Act (“Act”), all schools in the state must adopt policies and procedures to prevent and address student-on-student harassment, intimidation, or bullying based on “actual or perceived characteristics” of the victim student. (Cal. Edu. Code § 234.)

Schools within the University of California system are also required to establish anti-bullying policies and procedures. (Cal.Edu. Code § 66302.)

Anti-bullying policies

Under California law, schools must develop and post policies that:

  • set out the process for students and others to report bullying
  • set out the process for investigation of such reports
  • require school employees to intervene and stop incidents of suspected bullying
  • establish an appeal process for a student to follow to challenge a finding of bullying, and
  • prohibit retaliation against anyone who reports suspected bullying.

(Cal.Edu. Code § § 234.1, 66302.) Under these policies, harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying are grounds for suspension or expulsion. (Cal.Edu. Code § 48900.)

Schools are further required to make information available  on the California Healthy Kids Resource Center Internet Web site and other appropriate department sites. (Cal. Edu. Code   §  234.2.)

“Actual or perceived characteristics"

As used in the Act, a student’s “actual or perceived characteristic” includes disability, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

(Cal. Edu. Code § 234.1.)

“Bullying”

The Act defines “bullying” as any “severe or pervasive” physical or verbal conduct that is directed toward another student and that can “be reasonably predicted” to:

  • place a reasonable student in fear of harm to person or property
  • cause a reasonable student to experience a ”substantially detrimental effect” on his or her physical or mental health
  • interfere with a reasonable student’s academic performance, or
  • interfere with a reasonable student’s participation in or benefit from school services, activities, or privileges.

(Cal. Edu. Code § 48900.) The Act expressly prohibits cyberbullying by “electronic acts.”

“Electronic act” and "cyber sexual bullying"

Under California law, an electronic act is a communication of any kind (including messages, texts, sounds, social network posts, or images) created and/or transmitted by means of an electronic device (including cell phones and computers). (Cal.Edu. Code § 48900.) As of January 1, 2017, an electronic act includes an act of "cyber sexual bullying," which includes a  photograph or other visual recording that shows an identifiable minor in a nude, semi-nude, or sexually explicit manner.  Students who have been found to have committed such an act may be suspended or recommended for expulsion. (AB 2536.)

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If you have questions about cyberbullying or harassment in California, talk to a lawyer experienced in criminal or educational law.

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