“David’s Law” Makes Cyberbullying a Crime in Texas

It’s an epidemic in today’s world: Cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon to recent generations and one that has quickly turned into a major threat for youth today. Consider the story of David Molak. Throughout his high school career, David was harassed online by classmates. They mocked his appearance and even went as far as to threaten physical violence. In January 2016, David took his own life at only 16-years-old.

Now, his parents are telling David’s story in an effort to save other families from having to endure this kind of pain – and that’s not all. The family has worked with senator Jose Menendez in San Antonio, Texas to make cyberbulling a crime when it causes injury to a minor or leads to suicide.

The goal of the law is to stop teen suicide, which has been on the rise over recent years. The law is called “David’s Law.”

What is David’s Law?

David’s Law is Senate Bill 179 (SB 179). It classifies cyberbullying as a misdemeanor. By doing so, the courts may issue subpoenas and uncover people who  are posting anonymously online. The law also requires intervention from public schools when any cyberbullying behavior is suspected. Parents of the cyberbullies may also be held responsible if they could have intervened but didn’t.

In other words, victims’ families will have more opportunity to hold others responsible. Here’s how:

  • School districts are required to include cyberbullying policies in their district policies and notify parents if their child has been the victim of bullying or is the alleged aggressor;
  • Requires school districts to develop an anonymous system to report bullying and threats;
  • Gives school districts greater ability to investigate off campus bullying if they see it materialize in school, enabling school districts and law enforcement agencies to collaborate on investigations;
  • Gives school districts greater latitude to discipline or expel students for very serious bullying behavior, including encouraging a child to commit or attempt suicide;
  • Enables law enforcement to unmask anonymous social media users who threaten others,
  • Makes it a misdemeanor to harass or bully anyone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media, websites, apps, or other means; and
  • Provides additional counseling and rehabilitation services to the aggressor and victim.

The legislation passed in the Texas State Senate on May 3rd, 2017 and in the Texas House of Representatives on May 12, 2017.  It was then signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on June 9, 2017 and is set to take effect on September 1st of this year.

Prevention vs. Punishment

Some critics of the law worry that it could focus more on punishment, after it’s too late, rather than preventing cyberbullying in the first place. To help answer that, SB 179 requires each school district’s board of trustees to implement a mental health plan that specifically addresses cyberbullying and suicide prevention.

“Prevention and early intervention start at a young age… But we still have a myriad of high and middle school schoolers who think it’s cool to come up with the best ‘burn’ or ‘put down,’” Menendez commented.

Privacy Isn’t Guaranteed Online

As Invasion of Privacy lawyers, we work hard to hold responsible those who post harmful content about others. This law, we believe, is a good start toward showing cyberbullies that they are not protected by posting vile messages from behind a screen. There are real life consequences to their actions and words.David’s Law will help to stop instances of cyberbullying before it causes irreversible harm.

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