What protection does legislation provide against cyberbullying?

Published: 15 November 2017

A cyberbullying magyarul online megfélemlítést, zaklatást jelent. Sok formája létezik, de mindben közös, hogy ártó szándékkal, interneten, számítógépen vagy mobil eszközön követik el. A magyar Büntető törvénykönyvben nem szerepel önálló tényállásként az online megfélemlítés, de egyes európai országokban már látni a jelenség hatását a büntetőjogra, az Egyesült Államokban pedig már nevesített törvények is léteznek.

Cyberbullying means online intimidation and/or harassment. It has many forms, but what is common in all of them is that they are committed with malicious intent over the internet using computers or mobile devices. The Hungarian Criminal Code does not include cyberbullying as a specific offence, but in some European countries the impact of this phenomenon on criminal law is apparent, while the United States has specific acts.

Cyberbullying means online intimidation and/or harassment. It is a wilful act committed in the online space through electronic devices and different online social platforms with the aim of humiliating and degrading the victim. Repeat offence, a fundamental aspect of traditional bullying, is not a requirement in the online environment; here, a single act is enough to intimidate someone: with one share, a degrading can reach hundreds of people in a matter of seconds. Power relations between the perpetrator and the victim are typically unbalanced, the more powerful person, i.e. the perpetrator, exerts pressure on the less powerful, i.e. the victim. Confidence in online anonymity only further exacerbates this imbalance.

Cyberbullying occurs when a victim is degraded in comments or embarrassing photos of him/her are uploaded without his/her permission on Facebook or the perpetrator humiliates him/her in his/her blog or vlog. Abusive/threatening messages received by email are also considered cyberbullying.

In such cases, a number of the victim’s rights are violated, especially the right to human dignity and certain personality rights. In the Hungarian Criminal Code, there is no specific offence on the basis of which cyberbullying could be sanctioned; the closest to it is traditional “offline” harassment (Section 222 of the Criminal Code: Harassment). Currently, legal systems across Europe do not include cyberbullying as a specific offence either; enforcers assess such act on the basis of offences such as harassment, threat or defamation, but other offences that take technological progress into consideration have also been created.

Croatia has introduced into its Criminal Code the offence of befriending children with the intention of sexually exploiting them where a perpetrator befriends children under the age of 15 online for the purpose of satisfying his/her sexual desires. The Czech Republic’s criminal law specifies extortion for the purposes of sexual exploitation: the perpetrator coerces the victim into committing sexual acts or taking photos/videos without wearing any clothes by extorting the victim with a photo or video of a sexual nature in his/her possession.

In the US, 22 states already have antibullying acts that specifically provide for online forms of intimidation. The road leading up to this was long; the key drivers behind the legislation were tragic cases where young people fell victim to such aggressive acts of cyberbullying that they saw suicide as the only way out.


A conceptual and legislative overview by a Hungarian expert on the topic:

A comprehensive article with international and Hungarian examples: