The horrific case of Brandy Vela who shot herself in front of her parents has highlighted the issue of cyberbullying in Texas.
The 18-year-old was “relentlessly cyberbullied,” according to CNN. Even after her death in December, a social media page opened in her memory filled up with disturbing posts.
Texas City police said the alleged harassment was being investigated. Capt. Joe Stanton, a police spokesman, said officers had not identified any suspects as of the end of 2016.
Under Texas law, those who allegedly harassed the teen and set up fake social media accounts using her photo and information could face criminal charges and possible jail time.
Cyberbullying rises to the level of harassment through the impersonation of someone online and it could lead to third-degree felony charges.
However, media reports say the use of an untraceable app could make it difficult if not impossible for the cyber bullies to be apprehended.
There has been a massive upsurge in cyberbullying in the 21st Century. Often, law enforcement agencies have struggled to keep up with it.
Even after Vela’s death, the Facebook page meant to be a tribute to her filled up with hateful comments. CNN reported four people or one individual posting four times called her a big fat cow and wrote “you finally did it” with a picture of a gun. The poster suggested the teen should have killed herself years ago.
The episode highlights how the Internet has given people more scope to harass under a cloak of anonymity.
CNN quoted Susan Swearer, the co-founder of the Bullying Research Network who said people are far more likely to write horrible things when they believe they’re being anonymous. She said.
“From a psychological perspective, people who write horrible things about other people, particularly after they’ve passed away, they have their own mental health issues.”
Until recently, there were no laws that addressed cyberbullying. The criminal law has struggled to deal with the exponential growth in online technology that makes cyber bullying so powerful.
However, incidents like suicides and school shootings have changed that and states have enacted cyberbullying laws, states FindLaw.
Texas defines bullying as any written, verbal or physical act that causes physical harm to a student or damages a student’s property. Alternatively, it could create an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment.
Texas defines, “cyberbullying” as the use of any electronic communication device to engage in intimidation or bullying. Communications relevant under the Texas Educational Code include statements made through social media and text messages.
Cyberbullying is a gray area. There are instances when it is unclear if a post has fallen foul of the criminal law. It’s important to hire an experienced Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with a crime of this nature. Read about our criminal defense strategy here or call us today for a free consultation about your case.