New Jersey Lawmakers Take Tough Stand on Cyber-Harassment

With the growing popularity of Facebook and Twitter, bullying is no longer limited to the schoolyard. In fact, Consumer Reports estimates that one million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyber-bullying during the past year.

Although New Jersey has some of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country, it is currently not illegal to harass minors online. However, a new bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden and Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-North Bergen, aims to close the loophole.

Harassment can take many forms, from posting demeaning messages to spreading unflattering gossip. Moreover, as highlighted by the New Jersey death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, the consequences for the victims can be devastating. 

“An increasing number of students are reporting having been the victim of online harassment, and in too many cases the torment these children have been forced to endure have let to suicide attempts or worse,” Sacco said in a statement. “This bill will make sure that our laws specifically address this conduct and that law enforcement officials have the tools necessary to prosecute individuals who participate in cyber harassment.”

Under Senate Bill 2469, a person commits the crime of cyber-harassment if he or she uses an electronic device or social networking site to 1) threaten to injure or harm a person or that person’s property; 2) send or post any lewd, indecent or obscene material to or about a person; or 3) threaten to commit a crime against a person or his or her property.

Under the proposed law, offenders would face 18 months in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. In addition, convicted cyber-bullies under the age of 16 and their parents must attend a training program intended reduce the tendency toward cyber-harassment behavior or bring awareness to the dangers associated with cyber-harassment. 

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the measure, which now heads to a full Senate vote. If successful, it will further strengthen New Jersey’s anti-bullying laws and help ensure that bullies can’t hide behind a computer.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

  New Jersey Lawmakers Take Tough Stand on Cyber-Harassment