Understanding Wisconsin’s Take on Cyberbullying
A 2019 poll conducted by UNICEF found that more than one-third of young people in 30 countries report being victims of cyberbullying, while one in five skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence. With this in mind, it is likely that you know a cyberbullying victim personally or maybe even experienced it yourself. Considering the detrimental effects of cyberbullying on people, especially young people, one would think that the state has enacted laws prohibiting this act.
However, there is not a single statute that specifically criminalizes cyberbullying in Wisconsin.
For background, Wisconsin legislators define cyberbullying as the practice of using electronic devices such as computers, mobile telephones or tablets to engage in behavior that is intended to cause fear, intimidation, or harm to others. Cyberbullying has negatively impacted countless young people and even lead to their suicides, but many perpetrators don’t realize the extent of their actions in the first place. This is why learning the following examples of cyberbullying, provided by the National Crime Prevention Association, can help raise awareness of the act and better reduce its occurrence:
- Sending mean or threatening emails, instant messages, or text messages to someone
- Excluding someone from an instant messenger buddy list or blocking their email for no reason
- Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others
- Breaking into someone’s email or instant message account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person
- Creating websites to make fun of another person such as a classmate or teacher
- Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.
Although cyberbullying isn’t formally defined and prohibited in Wisconsin, there are several civil and criminal laws that intend to prevent bullying and cyberbullying, including harassment, unlawful use of the telephone, and unlawful use of computerized communications. They are defined as such:
Harassment occurs when a person does the following with the intent to harass or intimidate another person:
- Strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects a person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same
- Engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts that harass or intimidate a person for no reason
If convicted, a defendant will be subject to a Class B forfeiture that carries $1,000 fines. However, if their alleged conduct placed the victim in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm, or the harassment occurred in violation of certain injunctions that restrict contact with the victim, a defendant may get a Class A misdemeanor charge, punishable by $10,000 fines and/or 9 months in prison.
The unlawful use of a telephone is a class B misdemeanor offense punishable by $1,000 fines and/or 90 days in prison. It occurs when a person makes a phone call to:
- threaten to inflict injury or physical harm to any person, or to the property of any person, with the intent to frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass
- use any obscene, lewd, or profane language, or to suggest any lewd or lascivious act, with the intent to frighten, intimidate, threaten, or abuse
- refrain from disclosing their identity while intending that the call abuse or threaten any person at the called number, whether or not conversation ensues
This crime can decrease to a class B forfeiture if a person is found guilty of doing the following:
- Making a telephone call and using any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggesting any lewd or lascivious act, with intent to harass or offend
- Making or causing the telephone of another to ring repeatedly, with intent to harass any person at the called number
- Making repeated telephone calls, whether or not conversation ensues, with the sole intent of harassing any person at the called number
- Making a telephone call, whether or not conversation ensues, without disclosing their identity and intending to harass any person at the called number
- Knowingly permit any telephone under their control to be used for any purpose prohibited the law
It is a Class B misdemeanor to unlawfully use computerized communication systems to intentionally frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass another person. Specifically, it is illegal to commit the acts below through electronic mail or another computerized communication system:
- Send a message that threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or their property, or doing so with the reasonable expectation that the person will receive the message
- Send a message containing any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggesting any lewd or lascivious act to any person, or doing so with the reasonable expectation that the person will receive the message
- Send a message to any person while intentionally preventing or attempting to prevent the disclosure of one’s own identity, or doing so with the reasonable expectation that the person will receive the message
Accused of Cyberbullying?
Since about 95% of teens in the United States have online access, particularly, through their mobile devices, it is not surprising that cyberbullying is so widespread. Unfortunately, many alleged cyberbullies do not understand the impact of their actions until it’s too late. Everyone makes mistakes, especially young people, which is why our Milwaukee criminal defense team is available 24/7 to help good people in bad situations understand their options and navigate the legal process.
When are ready to discuss your situation with our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer, contact us at (414) 882-8382!