Is cyberbullying a crime?
At what point is it worth reporting a case of cyberbullying?
Claudia Felden: At any point. The fact is that bullying always involves a number of offences at the same time: physical injury, defamation and violations of personal rights, the right to one’s own image or the violation of someone’s personal space. If a police report is filed, the offender is required to delete all distributed content. If there is a refusal to comply, a petition must be submitted to the public prosecutor’s office. The rulings that result from such a petition make it possible to force website providers to remove content directly.
What do you do if the offender’s identity is unknown?
We work with the provider to try and find out who uploaded the content illegally. If photos or videos are sent using an app, for example, we can seize smartphones and have them analysed. The offenders will be summoned to the police station and be given a preliminary hearing as suspects. It is often at this stage that offenders realise that the Internet is not a legal vacuum.
What do offenders have to face following a report?
The law for young offenders is less about punishment and more about putting them back on the right track. The damage already experienced by the victim is a relevant factor in the punishment. We also involve the youth welfare office in order to obtain a social assessment. As a rule, though, young people face community service rather than a prison sentence for insults or damage to property. Only in the worst cases do offenders spend time in custody.
Claudia Felden is a senior police commissioner (Polizeioberkommissarin) in the steering committee for West Hesse and an expert in cybercrime.