New Law Targets Cyberbullying By Text

February 28th, 2011 by Kim Lenz

RICHMOND – Think before you text – because sending malicious electronic messages with your cell phone soon could be punishable by law.

Under legislation approved by Virginia’s General Assembly, it would be a Class 1 misdemeanor to use a cellular telephone or other wireless device to transmit a text message that contains “profane, threatening, or indecent language.”

The bill targets teenagers engaging in “cyberbullying” via wireless communications. It would add “texting” to Virginia’s obscene phone call statute.

Last week the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2059, proposed by Delegate Robert B. Bell, R-Charlottesville. It had cleared the House on a 99-0 vote two weeks ago.

“Cyberbullying is a real problem, and makes it harder for students to learn,” Bell said in a statement. “I am hopeful that the law will protect students from those who would threaten or intimidate them through obscene texts.”

The Cyberbullying Research Center, an information clearinghouse operated by criminal justice professors in Florida and Wisconsin, defines cyberbullying as “when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.”

About one in five adolescents will be victimized by cyberbullies, according to the center’s research. In extreme cases, authorities say, cyberbullying has driven young people to commit suicide.

Virginia already has a law that says, “Any person who uses obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or makes any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threatens any illegal or immoral act with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person, over any telephone or citizens band radio, in this Commonwealth, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

But the statute doesn’t say anything about texting. HB 2059 would make it clear that obscene or threatening text messages would be illegal.

“This is an example of changing laws to keep up with changing times,” Bell said. “It was originally brought to my attention by a juvenile prosecutor in Culpeper. I also met with my local middle and high school principals, who made it clear that cyberbullying does cause problems in their schools.”

Bell’s measure states that “over any telephone” would cover “any electronically transmitted communication producing a visual or electronic message that is received or transmitted by cellular telephone or other wireless telecommunications device.”

The Senate’s action now sends the bill to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his approval. If signed into law, the legislation would take effect July 1. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“I am hopeful that the law will protect students from those who would threaten or intimidate them through obscene texts,” Bell said.

7 Responses to New Law Targets Cyberbullying By Text

  1. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Yes…finally!

  2. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Just more of our freedoms taken away. If they don’t want the text they can just block out the number so they do not recieve any from that number. It is a shame that the govenment feels the need to protect you from everything.

  3. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Again, taking away our freedom as Taxpayer says!! Whatever happened to the parents actually disciplining your own children?
    Really??? How about the parents actually taking the time to pay attention to their children? Who is paying the cell phone bill? The children? I think not!! Why not just punish the person who the bill falls upon!!! They are the ones in charge of their account!! Really????

  4. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Protecting people from cowardly acts is not taking freedom away. No one has the right to intentionally attack another person and text and the internet have made it easier. This is a good law. How would you feel if your child or spouse committed suicide over bullying or you lost your career over this sort of stuff. No one has the freedom to intentionally harm another person. Texting is definitely becoming a problem and so are sites like Formspring and Topix.

  5. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    To R: My children don’t have any self esteem issues!! They have been taught to ignore people that belittle them. Also, you can always change the number if you don’t want your children to receive bullying text or any text for that matter. So many more easier fixes than passing legislation to enforce what the PARENT or GUARDIAN should be doing!!!

  6. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I am in love with Really???? I am so glad to see that their is one other partent who is willing to take some responibilty for thier children instead of having the state infringe on more of my freedoms. This comes down once agian to the fact that the state is raising a bunch of little sniviling cowards instead of the parents actually talking to thier children and teaching then right from wrong. There will always be people who bully others. The only 2 ways to really deal with them is to ignore them or to put them in thier place. Once you take away thier power they are nothing.

  7. Anonymous

    February 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Well said Taxpayer!!!! Well said….

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