Trolls beware: statute makes cyberbullying a state crime

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Cyberbullying is certainly a hot topic at the moment, making its way into the political arena quite often.  Just about everyone has posted something online and had a “troll” comment with harassing statements, some of which are significantly offensive and perhaps even scary. 

According to the website stopbullying.gov, 15 percent of high school students experienced cyberbullying.  This number jumps dramatically to 55.2 percent for those students who identify as LGBTQ. Before leaving office, former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a law making cyberbullying a crime – Public Act 457 of 2018.  The law became effective March 27, 2019.

Cyberbully is defined in the law as “... posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person if both of the following apply:  (i) The message or statement is intended to place a person in fear of bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person.  (ii) The message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.”  It does not matter if the public forum requires a membership or password, which in my opinion, makes the law more effective as it will apply to more mediums.

The first conviction is a misdemeanor, with the sentence being no more than 93 days and the fine being no more than $500.  If that doesn’t deter the troll, his or her second offense includes jail time of up to one year, and a $1,000 fine.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying can lead to harm or even death of the victim.  Far too often I read that a teen has died by suicide after extreme bullying, online or in person. When the bullying “involves a continued pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior,” and serious harm occurs to the victim, the crime is considered a felony with the offender facing five years in prison with a $5,000 fine.  If that bullying results in the victim’s death, the offender may be sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

In order to be considered a “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior,” the offender must engage in a “series of 2 or more separate noncontinuous acts of harassing or intimidating behavior.”

With there now being a legal consequence to this type of behavior, the hope is that it will decline and be taken more seriously by adults and children.  At minimum, the possibility for justice now exists for those who have lost loved ones to cyberbullying.

For resources and help talking to others about bullying, visit stopbullying. gov, or one of the many other websites available that address this topic.

The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.  Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 
 

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