New Jersey continues to be a leader in the country when it comes to efforts to reduce bullying and its consequences. However, its latest effort avoids the most common forms of cyber bullying against students.
The new statute now criminalizes cyber-harassment for threats of harm to person or property; posts indecent material to or about someone; or threatens criminal conduct against someone. http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S2500/2469_I1.HTM
Convicted persons under 16 are required to attend classes, and their parents are required to attend with them. Those 16 and over face fourth degree criminal charges – up to 18 months in jail and/or $10,000 in fines. If a person 21 or over pretends on-line to be a minor in the commission of this offense, they face third degree charges – 5 years and/or $15,000 in fines.
Unfortunately, because the most damaging cyber-bullying topics often do not focus on threats of physical harm or what others might consider “indecent” material, this statute will not be available in perhaps most cyber-bullying incidents. The statute will also likely be challenged by “free speech” advocates due to its use of broad terminology and failure to make exceptions for public figures and the like.
But it will be another tool that raises the collective consciousness with respect to this issue, and will provide some recourse to victims in certain situations, where none might have existed without it. I am pleased to see it.