Civil Liability for Cyberbullying
UC Irvine Law Review, Forthcoming
53 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2019 Last revised: 7 May 2019
Date Written: April 12, 2019
Cyberbullying has become a notorious epidemic, culminating in widely publicized suicides. Whether a new and distinct problem or an old one in a new guise, the technological setting has undoubtedly generated new challenges and, at the same time, new opportunities for legal response. Regrettably, while delegation of power to educational institutions and criminalization of cyber-misconduct are relatively common, at least in public discourse, the potential impact of civil liability has been downplayed. This Article puts the underexplored regulatory tool under the spotlight. It provides systematic legal and economic analyses of civil liability for cyberbullying, based on a trichotomy of potential defendants—primary wrongdoers, real-life supervisors (parents, schools), and virtual supervisors (mostly online platform operators).
Ultimately, the Article lays the foundations for an efficiency-oriented model which integrates technological features to reduce supervisors’ information costs. In order to incentivize parents to reasonably use advanced surveillance applications, the proposed model imposes liability when failure to employ such tools results in juvenile cyber-wrongdoing, in addition to standard liability for not taking reasonable precautions upon learning about the risk. The model also imposes liability on schools for cyberbullying through school devices if they failed to: (1) enforce reliable identification of users, (2) employ advanced surveillance tools, or (3) take reasonable measures to prevent harm upon notification of possible misconduct. Finally, the model holds a virtual supervisor liable if the victim has insufficient information to identify the wrongdoer, the victim gave notice of the complaint, and the virtual supervisor did not properly respond.
Keywords: cyberbullying, tort law, civil liability, children's liablity, parental liability, intermediary liability, negligence, strict liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, privacy, harassment, law and economics, law and technology, deterrence, efficiency, anonymity
JEL Classification: K13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation