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Can Parents Be Held Liable for Cyberbullying?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2018

Cyberbullying is a serious offense that can damage a child’s psychological, emotional, or even physical well-being. Because of well-documented cases of cyberbullying leading to suicide and self-harm of children and teenagers, many states, including West Virginia, have cyberbullying statutes on the books. These laws describe what qualifies as cyberbullying, the potential consequences, and even if parents can be liable for the damage their child causes. Learn about West Virginia’s cyberbullying laws and the consequences a parent might face for a child’s wrongdoing.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is any malicious activity that takes place in the digital space on devices like phones, tablets, and computers. It may occur over text, apps, or social media. When other people can share, view, or post shameful or hurtful content about someone else, it sets the stage for cyberbullying. The act most commonly occurs:

  • On social media networks
  • Via text message or SMS
  • Through email
  • On instant messaging apps

Cyberbullying can be particularly harmful because it is:

  • Persistent – the digital age gives teenagers and children an avenue for continuous communication – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Under these circumstances, victims of cyberbullying may never experience relief from the onslaught.
  • Difficult to notice – even parents and teachers who exercise vigilance may not notice the signs of cyberbullying at first, which can be easy to conceal. Surveillance of phone activity or social media networks may be the only way to confirm cyberbullying.
  • The information posted on a social media network may never completely disappear. Digital communication can be both public and permanent, which leads to long-term social and emotional consequences for the victim.

How Common is Cyberbullying?

Unfortunately, the anonymous nature of cyberbullying makes it a common phenomenon among both children and teenagers. According to the i-SAFE foundation:

  • More than half of adolescents and teens report being the victim of online bullying, and about the same number admit to engaging in the practice themselves.
  • About 33% of young people have experienced cyberthreats.
  • Over a quarter of adolescents report being the victim of repeated bullying over the internet or on the phone.
  • Over half of the teens affected do not tell their parents about cyberbullying incidents.

Cyberbullying Laws in West Virginia

West Virginia, like much of the nation, has statutes in place that address cyberbullying. Currently, cyberbullying is a civil offense, but a current law in the works would make it a criminal one if it passes. Under the proposal, cyberbullying a minor would become a crime under West Virginia law, punishable by a $500 fine and up to a year in jail, or both, depending on the circumstances.

If the law passes and is signed into law, using a computer to harass, bully, or intimidate anyone under the age of 18 would be outlawed. Underage violators of the law would likely face juvenile delinquency charges, unless the courts find a compelling reason to try the child as an adult.

Currently, parents may also be civilly liable for any damages their child causes as the result of cyberbullying. In other words, parents of a bullying child may have to pay the victim’s family’s economic or non-economic damages if they choose to file a claim against the child who committed the bullying. Examples of damages parents might be responsible for include medical bills, therapy costs, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or mental anguish.

In general, West Virginia views cyberbullying as a serious offense that can carry both civil and possible criminal punishments. Parents must be vigilant in monitoring their child’s online activity and ending any malicious activity before it escalates to serious harm. If they fail to do so, they could be liable for any damages that result. If you or your child has been the victim of cyberbullying in West Virginia, the personal injury lawyers at Manchin Injury Law Group are here to help. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation.