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Legal Perspective

The laws for cyberbullying, harassment and online abuse

Cyberbullying, online harassment and digital abuse can in some cases (depending on where you are located and where the person participating in abusive behavior is) constitute a criminal offense. Although it can be difficult to take legal action for some kinds of bullying and abuse online – many countries and states are introducing new legislation or amending existing laws to incorporate digital abuse and harassment online.

U.S. Laws for cyberbullying and harassment

  • State Law – Nearly all states have amended and passed state laws and legislation to address cyberbullying and harassment by electronic communications. Some of the laws rely on demonstrating ‘ongoing harassment’ and some have been introduced specifically to target cyberbullying and online abuse.
  • Federal Law – Currently no federal laws exist to specifically target cyberbullying, although abuse on the internet and social media can be considered ‘discriminatory harassment’ when the abuse is based on religion, age, national origin, race, color or sex.

U.K. Laws for cyberbullying and harassment

There is no legal definition of cyberbullying in U.K. law. However there are a number of existing laws that can be applied to cases of cyberbullying and online harassment.

  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • Communications Act 2003
  • Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
  • Defamation Act 2013

The Defamation Act 2013 came into effect on January 1st 2014. Read the Act in full to learn what is included and excluded from the legislation.

Canada Laws for cyberbullying and harassment

Although at the time of writing this, Canada doesn’t have any laws directly recognizing cyberbullying, they have existing laws which could be used in certain cases of cyberbullying and online abuse. The perpetrator could potentially be prosecuted under one of the following laws:

  • Criminal Harassment
  • Making threats
  • Intimidation
  • Mischief in relation to data
  • Unauthorized use of computer
  • Identity fraud
  • Extortion
  • False messages/indecent or harassing telephone calls
  • Encouraging suicide
  • Defamatory libel

In Canada, it is considered a serious breach of the law to share sexually explicit images of another person without their consent. This law doesn’t just protect minors – it protects everyone. Committing a crime of this nature could result in serious consequences such as time in jail.

Australia laws for cyberbullying and harassment

Australia are yet to develop a law directly combatting cyberbullying but most forms of cyberbullying can be prosecuted under one of the following punishable crimes.

  • Stalking
  • Harassment
  • Unauthorized access
  • Defamation

If someone is encouraging or pressuring someone to commit suicide, it is a very serious breach of Australian law and the perpetrator can face up to life in prison.

India laws for cyberbullying and harassment

Although India is yet to develop laws in regards to cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse, they do have ‘S.66A of the Information Technology Act’ in which the offender will receive punishment for sending offensive, annoying or abusive messages to others through the use of the internet.

Ireland laws for cyberbullying and harassment

Ireland has developed some new laws to combat cyber-crime. Cyberbullying is punishable under the following laws: