West Virginia State Law: Cyberbullying

Objectives: Examine the West Virginia Cyberbullying Law, House Bill 2655 (adopted June 8, 2018).

Activities: Read and discuss House Bill 2655; watch video clip; review/answer scenario questions with students as a whole to ensure understanding.

WEST VIRGINIA LEGISLATURE

2018 REGULAR SESSION

ENROLLED

Committee Substitute for House Bill 2655

By Delegates Upson, Blair, Espinosa, Householder, Longstreth, Robinson, Sobonya, Phillips, Hill and Higginbotham

[Passed March 10, 2018; in effect ninety days from passage.]

AN ACT to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new section, designated §61-3C-14c, relating to creating the offense of cyberbullying of minors; setting forth the essential elements of the offense; defining terms; providing exceptions; and establishing criminal penalties.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:

ARTICLE 3C. WEST VIRGINIA COMPUTER CRIME AND ABUSE ACT.

§61-3C-14c. Cyberbullying or specific acts of electronic harassment of minors; definitions; penalties; exceptions.

  1. (a) It is unlawful for a person to knowingly and intentionally use a computer or computer network, as defined in §61-3C-3, to engage in conduct with the intent to harass, intimidate, or bully a minor, including, but not limited to:
  1. Posting, disseminating or encouraging others to post or disseminate private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor on the Internet; or
  2. (2) Posting obscene material, as defined in §61-3C-14a of this code, in a real or doctored image of a minor on the Internet;
  1. For the purposes of this section:
  1. "Harass, intimidate or bully" means any intentional gesture, or any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act, communication, transmission or threat that:
  1. A reasonable person under the circumstances should know the act will have the effect of any one or more of the following:
  2. Physically harming a minor;
  3. Damaging a minor’s property;
  4. Placing a minor in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person; or
  5. Placing a minor in reasonable fear of damage to his or her property; or
  1. Is sufficiently seve re, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or emotionally abusive environment for a minor.
  1. “Minor” means an individual under the age of 18 years old.
  1. This section does not apply to a peaceful activity intended to:
  1. Express a political view; or
  2. Provide information to others with no intent to harass, intimidate, or bully.
  1. (Any person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $500 or confined in jail for a period not to exceed one year, or both confined and fined.

Video Clip: The video (one minute 51 seconds), briefly describes the bill, known as Grace’s Law (a Maryland teenager who was harassed online and killed herself). FYI- Jill Upson, WV Delegate from Jefferson County, was describing a cyberbullying case in Berkeley County Schools (which occurred in 2007) that ended in the WV Supreme Court with the Court ruling that schools CAN take disciplinary action when http://www.wsaz.com/content/news/Cyberbullying-Bill-aims-to-make-online-harassment-a-crime-in-WVa-471719104.html

Scenario 1

Over the weekend, a middle school student, who is a friend of yours, screenshots a message on Snapchat about another student and texts it to all his friends. The message contains a threat of violence directed toward a student who attends a different school. You receive this text from your friend—what do you do?

Scenario 1 Questions:

  1. Does the description above in Scenario 1 violate the West Virginia Cyberbullying Law and/or the WV Bullying, Harassment, Bullying, Intimidation Policy (Policy 4373)? Why or why not?
  1. Read the options below and determine the best option(s):
  2. Don’t say anything. It is none of your business. There probably isn’t any truth to it anyway... Questions to consider: What if the threat is true and the student ends up being harmed? Will I be an accessory, since I knew about the threat in advance?
  1. Talk to your friend who texted the message. Ask if he knows whether or not the student who posted this on Snapchat is really planning to carry through with the threat… Questions to consider: What if my “friend” is part of the threat toward the other student? Maybe he plans to take part in the violence… Could I be targeted next?
  1. Investigate the situation yourself, figure out who posted the message and find out where the student who was threatened goes to school. What if I can’t figure out who these students are? Questions to consider: If I DO figure out the names of the students, what do I do with the information? Do I confront them?
  1. Tell a trusted adult. Will the adults do anything about it? Questions to consider: Will they tell you to mind your own business? What if my friend who sent the text finds out, will he stop being my friend… or worse?

What is the best option(s)? ______________________________________________________________

Why? ________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________

Scenario 2

A fight between two students who attend your school was videoed by another student. The fight happened after school and off school grounds. One student was badly injured as a result of the fight. The student who videoed the fight, shared the video on social media. You see the video on social media—what do you do?

Questions:

  1. In Scenario 2, does the student who videoed the fight violate the WV Cyberbullying Law and/or BCS Harassment, Bullying, Intimidation Policy (Policy 4373)? Why or why not?
  1. Read the options below:
  2. Don’t say anything and don’t share it with anyone. The student probably had it coming... Questions to consider: But…What if the student who was injured doesn’t know the fight is out there for everyone to see? This could be really humiliating for him/her. I don’t want to be the next victim… I’m keeping my mouth shut… But, I would want someone to tell me…
  1. Confront the student who videoed the fight and tell him/her to take it down. Questions to consider: What if the student starts something with me? What if his/her real intention was to help the student who was victimized?
  1. Talk with the student who was badly beaten up and tell him/her you are sorry about what happened and you’ll get back at the student who did the beating! Questions to consider: I am probably going to get into a fight… Do I really want to beat up another student and get into trouble? Is this really going to help the situation?

D. Tell a trusted adult. Questions to consider: If you tell an adult, will they tell you to stop tattling?

Will the adult do anything about it? Will your friends get mad at you for telling?

What is the best option(s)? ______________________________________________________________

Why? ________________________________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________________________

Answer Key

Scenario 1:

  1. Yes to violation of the WV Cyberbullying Law and possibly yes to violating Policy 4373: Per JGG, the actions by the students could be viewed as: “Harassment, bullying, or intimidation”… that a reasonable person under the circumstances should know will have the effect of harming a student, damaging a student’s property, placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person, and/or placing a student in reasonable fear of damage to his or her property; is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or emotionally abusive educational environment for a student.
  2. Option D is the best choice—The trusted adult (parent, guardian, administrator, teacher, counselor, law enforcement, etc.) will speak with additional witnesses and report to law enforcement authorities as warranted. Discuss Option B with students: While it might be okay to get additional information from your friend, a serious threat must be reported to a trusted adult. Options A and C are not good choices. Each of us has an obligation and responsibility to report a threat. The saying, “if you know something, say something [to a trusted adult]” applies here. Option C is not a good choice—when reporting an incident, students should not take it upon themselves to gather possible witnesses. In a situation such as this, the student may be placing other students and him/herself at risk.

Scenario 2:

  1. Per WV Cyberbullying Law:
  2. "Harass, intimidate or bully" means any intentional gesture, or any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act, communication, transmission or threat that:
  3. A reasonable person under the circumstances should know the act will have the effect of any one or more of the following:
  4. Physically harming a minor;
  5. Damaging a minor’s property;
  6. Placing a minor in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person; or
  7. Placing a minor in reasonable fear of damage to his or her property; or
  8. Is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or emotionally abusive environment for a minor.

Therefore, yes, the student who posted the video could be in violation of the WV Cyberbullying Law because by placing the video online for anyone to see, one or both students may experience “an intimidating, threatening, or emotional environment.” Yes, to Policy 4373: The actions by the student who videoed and posted the video could be viewed the same as above. Per Policy 4373: “Harassment, intimidation or bullying means any intentional gesture… that… is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening or emotionally abusive educational environment for a student.” [Students may try to argue that the student’s intent of videoing was to show “evidence” of wrongdoing. If this was the case, the student would not have shared the video on social media. Instead, the student would have shared the video with a trusted adult or with law enforcement.]

  1. Option D is the best choice—The trusted adult (parent, guardian, administrator, teacher, counselor, law enforcement, etc.) will reach out to the student (who took and posted the video), and/or to the student’s parent/guardian, and work to get the video removed from social media. Option A might seem like a good choice; “good” that the student should not share with other students (including the student who was badly beaten). As with Scenario 1, however, students should report something like this to an appropriate trusted adult. Discuss Option B with students: Option B is not a bad choice… however, if the student does NOT remove the video, you must tell an adult. Option C is not a good option for obvious reasons. Please also discuss with students why it is not a good idea to share the video with other students (including the students who were videoed). First and foremost, if the student re-shares the video with other students, he/she is in possible violation of policy. Another potential option to discuss would be for the student to report the video to the social media’s online reporting system.