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Website Liability for Online Bullying

Website Liability for Online Bullying

Nevada has adopted a range of laws and regulations designed to prevent cyberbullying. The term covers a wide range of wrongful activities directed at a victim by electronic means (see NRS 388.122 for the complete definition of bullying). The law prohibits cyberbullying in schools and authorizes school authorities to take disciplinary actions against violators. For adults cyberbullying is also a crime, punishable as a misdemeanor or, in more serious cases, a gross misdemeanor. NRS 392.915.

Even though cyberbullies are not physically attacking their victims, they can cause real harm. Victims of cyberbullying can end up hurting themselves or needing expensive psychiatric care. In those situations, parents sometimes wonder if the websites that host the forum where cyberbullying occurs can be held legally liable for damages.

To encourage the robust development of the Internet, federal law provides blanket protection for websites and other “interactive computer services” against liability for content that they do not create themselves. Under Section 230 of the federal  Communications Decency Act, a provider of website services cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker of any content provided by others. 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1). This means that the host of an online discussion forum, social media companies like Facebook or Twitter, and owners of chat rooms are all protected from being vicariously liable for the content on their sites. The law preempts state law, meaning that state courts cannot skirt around it to impose liability that would not stick in federal court.

Like a lot of legal topics involving new technologies, there are sometimes arguments that attorneys can use to show that Section 230 doesn’t apply to a specific website. Even if the owner’s agent, such as a site moderator, gets involved in a thread in which cyberbullying takes place, the immunity of Section 230 may still apply unless the moderator adds harmful language to the discussion that would itself be a form of cyberbullying. In legal terms, by assuming responsibility for creating harmful content the website ceases to be a “publisher” and becomes an “information content provider.” A website also could lose immunity if it encourages users to cyberbully others. A court has held that a website that “elicits allegedly illegal content and makes aggressive use of it in conducting its business” would not be immune under Section 230. Fair Hous. Council v. Rommates.com, LLC, 521 F.3d 1157, 1172 (2007).

The attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez are keeping a close eye on the evolving borders between technology and the law. We have represented personal injury clients in the Las Vegas area for over 45 years and would be happy to talk to you about your cyberbullying case. Call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or reach us through our contact page.