4.4.1 A sampling of cyberbullying laws around the world

Several countries across the globe have already developed seemingly effective cyberbullying laws. The strictest cyberbullying laws in the world are reported to be those found in Canada where under the Education Act individuals who engage in cyberbullying face suspension from school, and repeat offenders may also face expulsion from school and possible jail time. In United Kingdom, cyberbullying could result in six months or more in prison and a fine under the Malicious Communications Act. Certain states of the USA are also considered to have strict legislation with legal consequences ranging from monetary fines, charges of misdemeanour or imprisonment; whereas other US states have looser or no specific cyberbullying laws. Effective legislature is also reported to be in place in the Philippines and Australia.2

In Europe, most countries do not have specific cyberbullying laws, but there are a number of existing laws that can be applied in cases of cyberbullying. Some countries have specific measures for certain online behaviours (for example, cyber stalking is illegal in Poland). International law covers some of the problematic areas: Convention on Cybercrime and European Data Protection Legislation is now being applied to issues of cyberbullying, online harassment and identity theft. The European Commission has also formed agreements with 17 of the world’s leading social networks, including Facebook and MySpace, to stop online abuse and to better protect young people online.3


4.4 Legal Considerations in Combating Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon. A need for anti-cyberbullying legislation is being recognized in many countries as cyberbullying can have serious consequences for individuals and communities. Many countries are beginning to recognize the emotional and physical harm that can result from cyberbullying and are designing protective measures and policies.2

Most legal definitions describe cyberbullying as:

  • Actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.
  • Use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person.
  • Use of Internet service and mobile technologies such as web pages and discussion groups as well as instant messaging or text messaging with the intention of harming another person.


4.4.2 Applicable legislature

Because the use of mobile and online communications has grown so rapidly and the crime is relatively new, many jurisdictions are deliberating over cyberbullying laws. However, if an online activity has indications or elements of a criminal act, existing laws should be considered, for example criminal law (assault, threats, harassment, protection of minors), civil law (defamation, data protection, consent), and in some cases regulations in special areas are also applicable (education, family, employment, human rights, data protection).

Cyberbullying is a serious problem, but not always illegal.

Cyberbullying is a serious problem and potentially extremely harmful. But in fact, a very small part of cyberbullying can be considered illegal activity. Most such behaviours are unacceptable behaviours that can and should be dealt with in the context of family and school environments.

However, at times cyberbullying incidents can have signs of criminal activity. We might believe there is a real threat to the target or the line toward harassment can be crossed. In such cases, local police departments or attorneys can be consulted to determine if the case should be reported to authorities.

It is important to realize that even if cyberbullying behaviours are not considered criminal acts, civil lawsuits may still be filed to determine the damage resulting from cyberbullying.

When designing policies and actions to fight cyberbullying, the applicable legislature should be considered. Specifically, school staff, youth workers, and parents should be aware which actions need to be reported to authorities.

4.4.3 Mandated reporting

In some cyberbullying cases, it may be advisable to inform the local police department or consult an attorney. Very few cases of cyberbullying are being reported to the police, and even fewer are found to have characteristics of criminal acts and are investigated, eve fewer are persecuted. However, it might be better to err on the side of caution.

In most European countries, professionals working with children are required to report to authorities if they suspect a child is being abused, in danger or if there is a criminal act being planned. This is called ‘mandated reporting’. Often, schools and organizations have procedures and rules in place for such situations. It is advisable to review such rules and consider how they might be applicable to cyberbullying.

‘Mandated reporting’ is when professionals working with children are required to report to authorities if they suspect a child is being abused, in danger or if there is a criminal act being planned.

It might be difficult to assess if an incident or behaviour needs to be reported to authorities, especially in the context of cyberbullying. Some questions to consider are: Was the child physically or psychologically harmed in the incident? Does the incident pose a future threat to the wellbeing of the child? Would a reasonable, impartial person believe that there is a serious threat? Is there anyone that can be consulted? Often police officers specializing in child protection or cyber-crime are happy to help you discern if the case should be reported, or a national agency dealing with cyber safety might be able to provide some insight.

Lack of awareness about reporting cyberbullying can be detected in many settings. For example, a study of national-level guidelines for cyberbullying prevention and intervention in 27 European countries1 found that whereas the importance of maintaining privacy and the need for reporting procedures were mentioned in around 50% of the guidelines, only about one-third included references to reporting incidents to the Police.

4.4.4 Social Media Rules and Terms of Use

Even though not all cases of cyberbullying can be considered criminal acts and although not every case needs to be reported to the police, cyberbullying should be reported to the platforms used to carry out the abuse.

Most social media providers have clear rules and terms of use deeming cyberbullying as unacceptable and a violation of terms of use. Most social media also have easy, anonymous reporting systems. For most social networking sites, the general reporting address is: [email protected]

Social media tend to take reports of cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse very seriously. In most cases, the site will take down the offending content and sometimes ban the bully from using the site. They also have resources to track activities, restore deleted content and identify the bully, although this information might not be available unless specifically requested by authorities.

The key step is to teach young people to be aware that social media they use have rules about acceptable online behaviour and terms of use that need to be followed. Not complying with these rules can have consequences. Cyberbullying is not acceptable online behaviour, and if they see it, they should report it right away. The site will take down the content and they can feel good knowing that they took assertive action to help stop cyberbullying.