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Legal Perspective

Cyberbullying, online harassment and digital abuse can in some cases be considered a criminal offence. Many countries have introduced new legislation, or have amended existing laws to incorporate digital/electronic abuse and harassment.

If you need advice about taking legal action please contact our team of trained Advisors at help@cybersmile.org.



There is no legal definition of cyberbullying within UK law. However there are a number of existing laws that can be applied to cases of cyberbullying and online harassment, namely:

  • 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

Guidelines issued by the Crown Prosecution Service in Dec 2012 explain how cases of cyberbullying will be assessed under the current legislation. Download the ‘CPS Guidelines’ here.

The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on 1st January 2014. To read the act and for more information click here.


European Data Protection Legislation is now being applied to issues of cyberbullying, online harassment and identity theft.

In 2010, Giovanni Buttarelli, the Assistant European Data Protection Supervisor, outlined how EU Data Protection could be implemented to protect individuals from cyberbullying and online harassment.

Conference Report: “Cyber-Harassment in Schools” (2010)

In 2014, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are due to implement reforms to the EU Data Legislation.

The European Commission has also been active in curbing online abuse by forming an agreement with 17 of the world’s leading social networks, including Facebook and Myspace, to ensure young people and children are better protected online.


State Law – Nearly all US states have amended and passed state laws and legislation to address cyberbullying and harassment by electronic communications.

US Law

Federal Law – In April 2009 a bill was passed to amend Title 18 of the United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying. The bill is cited as the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act”, after the Missouri teenager who tragically committed suicide following a cyberbullying campaign carried out by an adult neighbour.

The US Senate and House of Representatives is still to decide if the bill is to be fully enacted into US Federal Law.

Cyberbullying Fact Sheet: Legal and Policy Issues


Cyberbullying is not confined to English-speaking countries and we are seeing nations all over the world implement changes to address the issue.

UNICEF, the Human Rights Commission and the United Nations are calling for a coordinated approach from governments around the world.

Recommendations from the 2009 Unlearning Intolerance Seminar, held in the United Nations Headquarters in New York, call for international strategies on awareness, education, family involvement and policy change in dealing with “cyber-hate”.

United Nations New York Cyber-Hate Seminar

United Nations Press Release