Thursday, July 18, 2024
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New Law Classifies Cyberbullying As Misdemeanor

A new Tennessee law now in effect classifies cyberbullying as a form of harassment.

Putnam County Sheriff Eddie Farris said the law is meant to provide a safe learning environment where students are not afraid of physical harm or other fears brought on by cyberbullying. He said some people see certain acts of cyberbullying as funny or harmless, but the issue is about how the recipient may interpret such a message even if there is no malicious intent behind it.

“We don’t want that to lead into some kind of worse altercation, physically or something worse that, you know, that would, you know, cause somebody to be scared and start attempting or bringing weapons to school to protect themselves and that kind of thing,” Farris said.

Farris said cyberbullying occurs when someone sends a digital message that causes the receiver emotional distress or fear of physical harm. He said the new classification would count cyberbullying as a class A misdemeanor, which could come with a fine up to $2,500.

“Most of that, of course, would be reflecting back on the parents because most of the students that are in our schools obviously are juveniles,” Farris said. “So this would be something that the student itself would get summoned and have to go to juvenile court, visit one of the judges, and answer for some of the things that’s happened.”

He said there are different levels of how damaging a digital message can be, so what legally counts as cyberbullying is examined on a case-by-case basis.

“You could send one message that would qualify, or you, some messages may be multiple times being sent before it would add up to this level of cyberbullying,” Farris said. “It’s certainly a work-in-progress.”

Farris said most cyberbullying takes place through the usage of smartphones, although it does happen via computers as well. Farris said he hopes parents and students aware of the law will take comfort in the knowledge that these issues are being taken seriously.

“I hoping that that’ll not only make them feel better, but hopefully deter students and other students try to be mean to each other and that kind of thing, hopefully that’ll deter that to start with,” Farris said.

Farris said law enforcement will be brought in immediately if a cyberbullying incident occurs. He said they have broader capabilities with what they are allowed to do when working in a school setting with children as opposed to in public with adults.

“The phone will certainly be confiscated and checked immediately and start following up on any concerns or anything like that,” Farris said. “And even if the message has been deleted we have ways of re-tracking that and seeing if that message was sent.”

Farris said the majority of cyberbullying issues in Putnam Schools are handled by school resource deputies before they get severe enough to warrant any charges.

“We will certainly continue to do this and make sure we stay on top of it and certainly think it’s a good law,” Farris said.