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.
Harassing, intimidating, or annoying another person via electronic communications is considered “cyberbullying.” Cyberbullying is a crime in California under certain circumstances.
California law makes two types of online or electronic conduct crimes.
Any person who electronically posts or transmits:
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.)
Any person who uses a telephone or any electronic means of communication to contact another person and:
with the intent to annoy the other person commits a misdemeanor crime in California. (Cal. Pen. Code § 653m.)
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.)
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.)
Under California law, schools must develop and post policies that:
(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.)
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.)
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:
(Cal. Edu. Code § 48900.) The Act expressly prohibits cyberbullying by “electronic acts.”
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.)
If you have questions about cyberbullying or harassment in California, talk to a lawyer experienced in criminal or educational law.