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F.S. 1006.147 - Cyberbullying in Florida

Bullying is nothing new. Cyberbullying as a criminal offense, however, is a relative newcomer to Florida statutes. As our Broward criminal defense lawyers can explain, cyberbullying is codified in F.S. 1006.147. But criminal charges for conduct described therein would actually be charged under different statutes. 

The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, Florida’s cyberbullying law, focuses primarily on standards and expectations for public schools responsible to prevent and respond to cyberbullying of both students and staff. The act requires every school district in Florida to adopt a bullying and harassment policy, report and collect data on incidents of bullying and harassment, and respond accordingly with actions that include conferences, mediation, training, notification, counseling, supervision, mentoring and punishment. 

A 2013 amendment to the law expressly allows schools to discipline their students for off-campus harassment/cyberbullying if it substantially interferes with or limits the victim’s ability to participate in or benefit from school services, activities or opportunities OR if it’s causes substantial disruption to the school’s operation or the education process. Schools cannot criminally prosecute their students, but they can (and sometimes do) report bullying-related crimes to police and prosecutors. 

In a single recent year, nearly 12% of students surveyed by Florida schools said they were bullied electronically at least once in the last year. As described in the statute, bullying (which includes cyberbullying) involves the systematic and chronic infliction of physical hurt or psychological distress by way of:

  • Teasing
  • Social exclusion
  • Threat
  • Intimidation
  • Stalking
  • Physical violence
  • Theft
  • Sexual, religious or racial harassment
  • Public or private humiliation
  • Destruction of property

Cyberbullying is much like traditional bullying. The key distinguisher is the use of technology. Cyberbullying is facilitated through email, social media platforms, gaming systems, text messages, etc. It can include the creation of a website, profile or blog that falsely assumes the identity or impersonates another person with the intention of bullying them.

Some real-life examples of cyberbullying: 

  • Starting an unkind rumor about someone on social media
  • Threatening someone through text messages
  • Posting an unflattering photo or video of someone online
  • Sharing nude pictures of someone (including AI-generated images) without their consent
  • Sending messages to someone telling them to commit suicide
  • Pretending to be someone else on an online platform to become “friends” with someone and then maliciously share information gathered through that connection
  • “Out” a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation without their consent

Cyberbullying can be a crime, but it doesn’t always rise to that level. Teasing someone, embarrassing them or excluding them from social events – these are not criminal offenses. However, stealing from someone, destroying their property, stalking them,  threatening them, or carrying out a physical attack – these ARE criminal offenses.

A person can be arrested and prosecuted for offenses that qualify as cyberbullying, but the charges would reflect the specific underlying criminal action. 

Criminal Charges One Can Face for Cyberbullying in Florida

Some examples of cyberbullying acts that can be criminally charged include:

F.S. 784.048, stalking and cyberstalking

This involves engaging in a course of conduct using electronic means to communicate or cause to be communicated, directly or indirectly, words, images or language that causes substantial emotional distress to another person absent any legitimate purpose. It can also involve accessing online accounts of another person without their permission, or maliciously and repeatedly following, harassing or threatening someone. 

If it involves a credible threat (either to the victim or a family member), it’s considered aggravated cyberstalking, which is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If there’s no credible threat, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. If the victim is a minor under 16, that’s also an aggravating factor that bumps the offense up to a third-degree felony. If the accused is a minor, it’s up to the state attorney’s discretion whether to charge them as adults or allow the case to proceed in the juvenile justice system. 

F.S. 836.10, written or electronic threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism

Threatening to kill someone or cause them bodily harm is a second-degree felony, carrying a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

F.S. 836.05, threats, extortion

This offense involves maliciously threatening injury to a person, their property or reputation with the intention to extort money, gain a financial advantage or compel someone to act or refrain from doing something against their will. It’s a second-degree felony, meaning it’s punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

F.S. 784.049, sexual cyberharassment

Colloquially referred to as Florida’s “revenge porn law,” it’s chargeable when a person with no legitimate reason and the intention to cause another emotional distress electronically disseminates or publishes sexually explicit images of someone else without their consent when they had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Depending on the circumstances, it’s either a first-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony. 

A similar statute that falls under the umbrella of defamation and libel laws is, F.S. 836.13. It prohibits sexual cyberharassment using altered sexual depictions made with AI (known as “deep fakes”). In other words, even if the sexually explicit depictions aren’t real, the person who disseminated or promoted them can still be criminally charged. This offense is a third-degree felony. 

F.S. 784.0495, mob intimidation

This offense involves two or more people ganging up on another by acting with a common intent to use force or threaten to use force to compel, induce (or attempt to compel or induce) the alleged victim to do or refrain from doing something against his or her will. It’s a first-degree misdemeanor, for which defendants can face up to one year in jail.

F.S. 815.01-F.S. 815.07, Florida Computer Crimes Act

Several crimes outlined in the Florida Computer Crimes Act can be charged in cyberbullying cases. These include:

  • Introducing a computer contaminant, such as a virus, that alters data programs or makes them unavailable.
  • Destroying data, equipment, or programs.
  • Releasing certain confidential information.
  • Gaining access to someone’s computer, network, system, or device without their permission.
  • Denying or disrupting someone’s ability to send and receive data from their electronic device(s). 
Florida Cyberbullying Defense Lawyer

If your child is facing criminal charges related to alleged cyberbullying, it’s important to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. It’s a mistake to assume that schools and prosecutors won’t take such offenses seriously just because those involved are minors. There is the potential for substantial, life-altering consequences. Working with a knowledgeable, dedicated defense lawyer is essential to protecting your child’s rights and future.

Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (954) 761-4011.

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