Michigan Has a New Cyberbullying Law—Here’s What You Need to Know
March 26, 2019
Last year, 12-year-old Gabbie Green took her own life after a vicious bout of cyberbullying by two classmates. Sadly, Gabbie is only one of many individuals who have been harmed by this relatively new form of terrorization. Almost 60% of teens have endured some form of online bullying, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Victims, some as young as nine years, often become depressed, anxious and isolated. A new Michigan cyberbullying law, effective this week, is designed to punish perpetrators and curb this growing epidemic.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when someone uses a public media forum to threaten, intimidate or harass another person, causing emotional distress or harm. The most common cyberbullying platforms are social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Because cyberbullying is often constant, permanent, public and difficult to track, it’s more damaging than other types of bullying. And, while educators have resources to address bullying on school grounds, cyberbullying presents a more difficult challenge.
What is Covered by the New Cyberbullying Law?
The new cyberbullying law, also called enrolled House Bill No. 5017, was approved last December and takes effect on March 27.
The basis of the law is best summed up by its first sentence:
A person shall not cyberbully another person.
The law defines what it means to “cyberbully” as follows:
Posting a message or statement in a public media forum about another person is considered cyberbullying under the following conditions:
- The message or statement is intended to create fear of bodily harm or death, and it expresses the intent to commit violence against the recipient.
- The message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with the knowledge that the victim will view it as a threat.
The law defines “public media forum” as the internet or other medium used to convey information to other individuals.
Punishment under the New Cyberbullying Law
- A person convicted of cyberbullying will be found guilty of a misdemeanor. The cyberbully could face imprisonment for up to 93 days, a fine of not more than $500, or both.
- Someone who is convicted of cyberbullying and has a previous conviction for the same offense could go to jail for up to one year, pay a fine up to $1,000, or both.
- When the cyberbully engages in a continued pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior that causes serious harm to the victim, it’s considered a felony. In that case, the bully could face up to five years in prison and/or pay a fine of up to $5,000.
“Serious injury” is defined as serious and/or permanent disfigurement, severe health damage or serious impairment of a bodily function.
A “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” means two or more separate, non-continuous acts of harassment or intimidation.
- If the victim dies as a result of the continued harassment or intimidation, the cyberbully will be convicted of a felony. However, this time they could face up to 10 years in prison and/or be fined up to $10,000. This law applies even if the bully did not directly cause the death, as in the case of suicide.
“Cyberbullying is a scourge that is harming our young people at an alarming rate,” said Mark Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm. “These bullies must be stopped, and we hope the new Michigan cyberbullying law will help accomplish that.”
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