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High school students can face charges for bullying, even online

Bullying was once treated as an unavoidable rite of passage for the average American student. However, both social attitudes and laws about bullying have changed drastically in recent decades.

With suicide now among the top causes of death for adolescents and teenagers in the United States, lawmakers and policymakers have good reason to crack down on bullying, which is often linked to depression and suicide in teenagers. Under Texas law, students that bully another student on school grounds can face both penalties at the school for their actions and legal consequences if their behavior violates state law.

For example, if a student harasses or follows another student on campus, they could find themselves dealing with criminal charges related to stalking or harassment. Verbal threats could result in assault charges, while physical abuse and mistreatment could result in battery charges. Even online misbehavior now violates Texas laws. Students should know of the risk that online bullying carries.

Cyberbullying is punishable with jail time and fines

The rules about bullying in Texas used to only include actions that took place on school property or during school-related activities such as sporting events or dances. With the passage of David's Law, Texas expanded its bullying laws to include online activity.

Cyberbullying -- which can include sending abusive or threatening messages, making posts intended to mock someone or even creating fake profiles and usernames to abuse someone online -- is now a criminal act that carries noteworthy consequences. A first cyberbullying offense is typically a Class B misdemeanor that results in up to six months in jail and as much as $2,000 in fines.

At the discretion of the prosecutor, a cyberbully could also face Class A misdemeanor charges for incredibly abusive behavior. An accused cyberbully with a history of bullying behavior or an alleged cyberbully who specifically tried to provoke suicidal or self-injurious behavior may face up to a year in prison. They can also receive a $4,000 fine and the potential for expulsion from school.

Fake accounts no longer provide adequate protection

Teenagers, like many internet users, may think that what they do online doesn't matter in real life. They may also think that so long as they don't use their primary account to bully others, they won't get in trouble.

The expansion of the bullying laws in Texas to include cyberbullying means that even students using fake names and multiple accounts online can wind up accountable for their actions. It is easier now for police and prosecutors to request internet records that verify the identity of those who post abusive content online.

Parents of children accused of bullying need to take such accusations seriously, as criminal charges related to bullying or cyberbullying could impact their educational and career prospects for many years to come.

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