Cyberbullying Laws in Florida

Anyone who harasses another person using an electronic form of communication commits a crime in Florida. Florida law also prohibits bullying (including cyberbullying via electronic means) at public schools and directs each school to enact an anti-bullying policy.

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

Florida’s Definition of “Cyberbullying”

Unlike most states, Florida explicitly defines “cyberbullying.” In Florida, cyberbullying means “bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication.” (Fla. Stat. Ann. §1006.147.) The statute includes email, internet communications, instant messages, faxes, websites, and blogs in its descriptive and non-exclusive list of electronic means of bullying. (Fla. Stat. Ann. §1006.147.)

Cyberbullying as the Crime of Stalking

Florida law does not have a separate statute outlawing cyberbullying as such, but its stalking law covers “cyberstalking” as well. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) A person is guilty of a misdemeanor crime if he or she willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberstalks another person. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) Cyberbullying is a felony crime if the person engaging in it also makes a credible threat to the victim.

Definitions

Florida law defines “harassing” conduct as a course of conduct serving no legitimate purpose that is directed at a specific person, causing that person substantial emotional distress. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.)

Florida law defines a “credible threat” as a verbal and/or nonverbal threat that places the individual targeted by the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of family members or close associates. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) Fear of a threat is reasonable if the person making the threat has the apparent ability and intent to carry it out. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.)

How is cyberbullying punished in Florida?

A person convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed one year, a fine not to exceed $1,000, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 775.082, 775.083.)

A person convicted of felony cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed five years, a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 775.082, 775.083.)

Schools

Under Florida law, cyberbullying of any student or employee of a public K-12 school is prohibited. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.) Cyberbullying against a student is conduct that:

  • places a student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property
  • substantially interferes with the student’s ability to perform academically or enjoy educational benefits and opportunities, or
  • substantially disrupts the orderly functioning of the school.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.)

“Cyberbullying” in schools

Florida law defines cyberbullying in schools as conduct that systematically and chronically inflicts physical or psychological distress upon a student or students. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.) Such conduct may include:

  • teasing
  • social exclusion
  • threats
  • intimidation
  • violence
  • theft
  • sexual, religious or racial harassment
  • public or private humiliation, or
  • destruction of property.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.)

Anti-Bullying policies

Each public K-12 school in Florida must adopt and enforce an anti-bullying policy that conforms to the model policy mandated by the state Department of Education. Based on this model policy, each school’s policy must:

  • prohibit bullying during any school activity or event, on a school bus, or committed on a school-owned device (such as a computer)
  • describe the behavior prohibited
  • describe the consequences of violating the policy
  • set up a procedure for students and others to report suspected bullying
  • require school employees to report suspected bullying to the administration
  • notify the parents or guardians of students accused of bullying or targeted by bullying
  • set up an investigatory procedure
  • set up a procedure to refer victims and offenders to counseling, and
  • prohibit retaliation against anyone who reports suspected bullying.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.)

Immunity from lawsuits

Any school employee, student, parent, or school volunteer who makes a prompt, good faith report of bullying in compliance with the school’s anti-bullying policy is immune from a civil lawsuit by any person for making that report. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 1006.147.) This means than a person makes a prompt, good faith report of bullying cannot be sued by anyone for alleged damages caused by the report.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you or anyone you know has experienced or been accused of stalking or bullying, you may want to speak with a lawyer experienced in criminal defense or education law in your area.

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