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Cyberbullying

Bullying

This article discusses anti-cyberbullying tools for youth in Texas and offers tips on how to spot and handle cyberbullying.

In Texas, David's Law can protect minors from cyberbullying. A bullying victim (or their parents) can seek a court order against the alleged cyberbully (or their parents, if the alleged bully is a minor). Violating this type of court order, known as an injunction, can result in fines or jail time. Resources on cyberbullying can be found through the David's Legacy Foundation and StopBullying.gov. 

What is “cyberbullying”?

“Cyberbullying” is a single significant act or a pattern of actions by one or more students against another student done through technology (like email, instant message, text message, or social media).

Cyberbullying must either:

  • physically harm the student or the student’s property;
  • make the student fear harm;
  • create an intimidating, threatening, or abusive learning environment for the student;
  • substantially disrupt the learning process, classroom, or school; or
  • harm the student’s rights at school.

Under Texas law, to show cyberbullying, you must establish an “imbalance of power.” An example of an “imbalance of power” might be an older student bullying a younger student.

What is a anti-cyberbullying injunction and how do I get one?

Under Texas law, you can ask the court to stop someone from cyberbullying a young person by filing a Sworn Application and Petition to Stop Cyberbullying.

If you persuade the court that cyberbullying occurred, the judge can issue a temporary restraining order or even an injunction that orders the following:

  • The alleged cyberbully must stop the bullying behavior.
  • The alleged cyberbully’s parent(s) or guardian(s) must take reasonable actions to stop the cyberbullying.
  • The parties must save electronic communications and preserve electronic devices.

What happens if someone violates a cyberbullying injunction?

The injunction must specify what happens if someone violates an anti-cyberbullying order. 

If someone violates the terms of an injunction, they can be held in contempt of court. "Contempt" is the legal penalty for violating a court order and can result in fines or jail time.

Also, cyberbullying behavior may violate Texas's criminal harassment statute, Texas Penal Code 42.07.

In Texas, it is a misdemeanor if, with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, someone: sends repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another; or publishes on an Internet website, including a social media platform, repeated electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to cause emotional distress, abuse, or torment to another person (unless the communications are made in connection with a matter of public concern).

Will the alleged bully find out if a cyberbullying petition has been filed?

Yes. If a Sworn Application and Petition to Stop Cyberbullying is filed, the alleged bully is entitled to notice, and there will be a court date. 

What is an "imbalance of power"?

Under Texas law, to get an anti-cyberbullying order, you must show the court that there is an “imbalance of power.”

An example of an “imbalance of power” might be an older kid bullying a younger kid.

An “imbalance of power” may exist due to differences in age, sex, gender, religion, nationality, race, sexual orientation, popularity, physical strength, social media following, social status, income or wealth, or other differences between the parties involved. 

Where can I get legal help against cyberbullying?

You can request support through the San Antonio Legal Services Association's partner David’s Legacy Foundation. Qualifying families are referred for placement with a pro bono attorney either through SALSA or one of its partner organizations (Houston Volunteer LawyersDallas Volunteer Assistance ProgramLegal Aid of Northwest Texas, and Lone Star Legal Aid).

Or, use TexasLawHelp's Legal Help Directory to find a lawyer who serves your area. You can also seek help from the Don’t Bully Me Project or call the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral Service at 800-252-9690.

You can fill out the application for anti-bullying orders yourself, but you are encouraged to get a lawyer to help you. This article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Where can I learn more about Texas cyberbullying law?

Help Prevent Cyberbullying (FTC)

The content below is excerpted from the website of the Federal Trade Commission.

Talk to your kids about bullying.

Tell your kids that they can't hide behind the words they type and the images they post. Bullying is a lose-lose situation. Hurtful messages not only make the target feel bad, but also make the sender look bad. Often they can bring scorn from peers and punishment from authorities.

Ask your kids to let you know if an online message or image makes them feel threatened or hurt. If you fear for your child's safety, contact the police.

Read the comments. Cyberbullying often involves mean-spirited comments. Check out your kid's page from time to time to see what you find.

Recognize the signs of a cyberbully.

Could your kid be the bully? Look for signs of bullying behavior, such as creating mean images of another kid. Keep in mind that you are a model for your children. Kids learn from adults' gossip and other behavior.

Help stop cyberbullying.

Most kids don’t bully, and there’s no reason for anyone to put up with it. If your child sees cyberbullying happening to someone else, encourage him or her to try to stop it by telling the bully to stop and by not engaging or forwarding anything. Researchers say that bullying usually stops pretty quickly when peers intervene on behalf of the victim. One way to help stop bullying online is to report it to the site or network where you see it.

Don't react to the bully

If your child is targeted by a cyberbully, keep a cool head. Remind your child that most people realize bullying is wrong. Tell your child not to respond in kind. Instead, encourage him or her to work with you to save the evidence and talk to you about it. If the bullying persists, share the record with school officials or local law enforcement. 

Protect your child’s profile

If your child finds a profile that was created or altered without his or her permission, contact the site to have it taken down. 

Block or delete the bully

If the bullying involves instant messaging or another online service that requires a "friend" or "buddy" list, delete the bully from the lists or block their user name or email address. 

Read more about Cyberbullying at consumer.ftc.gov.

Related Articles

Related Forms

  • Sworn Application and Petition to Stop Cyberbullying

    PVA-CB-101

    Sworn Application and Petition to Stop Cyberbullying published by the Supreme Court of Texas in Misc. Dkt. No. 23-9014.