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Is Cyberbullying Illegal?

Cyberbullying is a serious issue that has only developed legal ramifications recently. In North Carolina, cyberbullying is illegal and is considered criminal activity. Cyberbullying is also more common than you may think. In 2020, among students ages 12-18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, 15% were bullied online or by text. Because parents and teachers do not see this type of bullying with their own eyes, it may go unnoticed. However, laws in North Carolina are catching up to those who harass others through cyberbullying. 

What is Cyberbullying under North Carolina Law?

Even if you are under the age of 18, you can still receive a conviction for cyberbullying. It is unlawful for anyone to use a computer or network to intimidate or torment someone under the age of 18 by:

  • Building a fake profile or web site
  • Posing as them in an internet chat room, an email message, or an instant message
  • Following them online
  • Following them into an Internet chat room
  • Posting or even encouraging others to post private, personal, or sexual information about them (Note that if you encourage someone else to do this, you are also guilty)
  • Copying or asking others to copy and give out an unauthorized copy of anything about them
  • Signing them up for a pornographic site 
  • Signing them up for email lists or to receive junk email or messages

If you are trying to intimidate or torment someone under 18 years old or their parent, it is also illegal to:

  • Post a real or doctored image of a minor on the Internet
  • Access, alter, or erase any computer network, computer data, computer program, or computer software, including breaking into a password protected account or stealing or otherwise accessing passwords
  • Use a computer system for repeated, continuing, or sustained electronic communications, including email to a minor.

Stalking Laws and Cyberbullying

If you are a victim of cyberbullying, you may also be a victim of stalking. There are two types of protections available if you are harassed by someone repeatedly. Learn more about what stalking is and its legal definition.

Domestic Violence Protective Order (50B)

If you have a “personal relationship” with the offender, you can seek specific forms of protection under a Domestic Violence Protective Order depending on the offense that was committed against you. 

A DVPO grants law enforcement the power to charge the defendant criminally if they violate the order. This type of protective order is available if you are being harassed by someone you have a personal relationship with. 

A personal relationship is defined by North Carolina law as someone who is a:

  • Current or former spouse
  • Opposite sex person who lives with you or did live with you previously
  • Persons related as parents and children, including those acting as a parent or grandparent to a minor child (Order against children under age 16 not allowed)
  • Individual you have a child with
  • Current or former household members
  • Person of the opposite sex in a dating relationship or who was in a dating relationship.  (Despite the “opposite sex” language on the forms, at Scharff Law, we have had success filing for same-sex relationships)

No Contact Order (50C)

To file for a Civil No-Contact Order, you must NOT have a “personal relationship” with the person who harmed you, and you must have been the victim of “unlawful conduct,” which includes stalking. 

Law enforcement has less ability to enforce this order than with a DVPO. However, the 50C does order someone to stay away from you. In addition, if someone continues to contact you after you have a 50C in place, law enforcement may be able to charge someone with felony stalking. 

Filing an Order for a Minor

If you are under the age of 18, then your parent or guardian must file the DVPO on your behalf. If that is not possible, you must ask for a guardian ad litem for help filing a DVPO. A guardian ad Litem is just a court-appointed advocate who helps you go through the process and makes recommendations to the court. The Guardian ad Litem the court appoints could be your parent, guardian or another adult. 

Consequences to Cyberbullies

Cyberbullying is a class 1 misdemeanor for anyone over 18 years old. This is a serious crime that comes with legal and financial consequences. If convicted, an individual will have a criminal record and may also have to pay a fine of over $1000 in addition to legal fees. 

If someone under the age of 18 commits the criminal cyberbullying offense, it is a class 2 misdemeanor and they will be prosecuted in juvenile court where their record is confidential.

We Can Help

If you or someone you know is a victim of cyberbullying and needs help, contact us at Scharff Law. We specialize in the laws surrounding cyberbullying, stalking, and domestic violence. If someone is hurting you, you have protections by law in North Carolina. We want to help you find safety and peace of mind once again. Contact us for an initial free consultation and find out how we can help.