“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That is the line that we have been told and/or had ingrained in our brains since as early as we could understand the English language. Bullying is no longer haunting the hallways of school grounds and/or college campuses. It lingers home with us, in our pockets, e-mails, and direct messages.
Yet, today, online trolling and cyberbullying account for over tens of thousands of deaths. An estimated 40-50% of cyberbullying targets are aware of the identity of the perpetrator.
Generally speaking, cyberbullying is defined as the act of harassing someone through the use of digital or electronic devices (cell phones, smart phones, computers, laptops, and/or tablets) by sending or posting messages of a malicious, intimidating, or threatening nature.
As the digital landscape continues to grow and evolve, so do the nature of the offenses those users choose to commit. This technology does indeed have a dark side that leads to only negative outcomes.
Currently, there is no federal law, policy, or school sanction against cyberbullying. However, all 50 states do have some type of “bullying” law, while 48 of those states have laws which include “electronic harassment.”
On Thursday, Michigan has taken the lead by criminalizing cyberbullying, with heavy and significant consequences for the law’s violation. Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder signed the bill into law, sponsored by Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township.
Michigan’s Public Act 457
Set to take effect in March, Michigan’s new cyberbullying law, nicknamed Public Act 457 of 2018, carries both misdemeanor and felony consequences.
Under Lucido’s bill, “cyberbullying” is defined by “posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person” if both “the message or statement is intended to commit violence against the person” and “the message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.”
Under the new law, a first time offense is considered to be a misdemeanor, where bullying someone online could yield a jail sentence of up to 93 days and a $500 fine. A second offense under the law would incarcerate the individual for up to one (1) year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
However, the law doesn’t stop there–any “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” or harassment that leads to serious injury, would lead to felony charges and up to five (5) years in prison, with a $5,000 fine.
A “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” means a series of two or more separate noncontinuous acts of harassing or intimidating behavior. A “public media forum” refers to “the internet or any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individuals, regardless of whether a membership or password is required to view the information.”
In the event the cyberbullying leads to a victim’s death, the individual would be facing ten (10) years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
While the law is ideally aimed at protecting young children, teenagers, and impressionable youth, it is also applicable to adults.
The next step is seeing how other states follow in Michigan’s footsteps.