Cyberbullying occurs when one person repeatedly uses information technology such as blogs, chat rooms, cell phones, e-mails or instant messaging to deliberately threaten, harass or intimidate another person(s). Cyberbullying also includes cyberstalking; sending sexually offensive messages to the victim; monitoring the victim’s online activities; sharing private or intimate information about the victim with others; and/or intentionally infecting the victim’s computer with a virus. Technology has created the opportunity for new forms of harassment in a variety of ways and from any distance. With the rapid spread of social networking sites and other Internet communication forums, there has been a tremendous increase in the Cyberbullying cases both in the federal and state courts.
Cyberbullying is not just confined to children. Adults working at large companies or educational institutions can also be victims. Cyberbullying can not only result in hurt feelings but also in severe harm to the victim, up to and including precipitating a suicide. In many states, there are statutes passed by the Legislature that outlaw Cyberbullying.
Unfortunately, in the absence of such a statute, the common law does not generally recognize Cyberbullying as an independent tort. However, the victims of Cyberbullying can often bring a garden variety cause of action for defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress when they are the victim of such behavior.
To prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, the victim has the burden to show that the harasser’s conduct was “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Murphy v. American Home Prods. Corp, 58 N.Y.2d 293 (1983). The victim also needs to prove that the victim suffered sustained financial, physical or psychological injury due to the harasser’s conduct.
To prove defamation, the victim is required to show the following:
- The defendant made defamatory statement regarding the plaintiff
- The defendant published the statement to others; and
- Injury resulted to the plaintiff.
Immuno AG v. Moor-Jankowski, 77 N.Y.2d 235 (1991).
Thus, there are potential common law remedies for Cyberbullying even in the absence of a specific statute providing relief.
© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC