Last update: January 26, 2011
PLEASE NOTE: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) serves state legislators and their staff. This site provides comparative information only and should not be construed as legal advice. NCSL cannot provide assistance with individual cases.
Many states have enacted "cyberstalking" or "cyberharassment" laws or have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within more traditional stalking or harassment laws. In addition, recent concerns about protecting minors from online bullying or harassment have led states to enact "cyberbullying" laws. This chart identifies only state laws that include specific references to electronic communication. However, other state laws may still apply to those who harass, threaten or bully others online, although specific language may make the laws easier to enforce. This chart classifies the various state laws addressing these three different types of online behaviors, as described below.
Cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. Cyberstalking may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm. Sanctions range from misdemeanors to felonies.
Cyberharassment. Cyberharassment differs from cyberstalking in that it is generally defined as not involving a credible threat. Cyberharassment usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual. Some states approach cyberharrassment by including language addressing electronic communications in general harassment statutes, while others have created stand-alone cyberharassment statutes.
Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and cyberharassment are sometimes used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this chart, cyberbullying is used for electronic harassment or bullying among minors within a school context. Recent cyberbullying legislation reflects a trend of makaing school districts the policy enforcers of such misconduct. As a result, statutes establish the infrastructure for schools to handle this issue by amending existing school anti-bullying policies to include cyberbullying or electronic harassment among school age children. The majority of these state laws establish sanctions for all forms of cyberbullying on school property, school busses and official school functions. However, some have also extended sanctions to include cyberbullying activities that originate off-campus, believing that activities off-campus can have a chilling and disruptive effect on children's learning environment. The sanctions for cyberbullying range from school/parent interventions to misdemeanors and felonies with detention, suspension, and expulsion in between. Some of these laws promote Internet safety education or curricula that covers cyberbullying.
See also: Additional NCSL cyberbullying resources, state laws related to electronic solicitation or luring of children, Internet filtering laws--schools and libraries, and NCSL LegisBrief: Protecting Children Online.