The subject of cyberbullying has been on the rise in recent years, as has the problem of online bullying itself. As the world becomes more connected, and social media plays a more integral role in people’s daily lives, instances of bullying via the internet have grown in frequency.
However, while the discussion surrounding this subject has favored legislation that protects victims and prosecutes offenders, not every state has bought into the idea of making cyber bullying illegal.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, currently 34 of the 50 states have laws against online bullying. MIchigan, however, is one states of those where hounding and harassing someone online is still not a crime per se. Although maybe not for long. Republican Representative Peter Lucido has sponsored a bill that he hopes will result in laws against cyberbullying in Michigan. A problem that he describes as a growing epidemic.
The 16 states where cyberbullying is still not a crime are Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Though if Lucido gets his way that list will only be 15 states long. So, you may be asking yourself, if this is such a problem, why aren’t all the states jumping onboard? Well, the answer isn’t straightforward.
For starters, one has to consider the fact that some legislators don’t believe that cyber bullying needs it’s own legislation. All states have various criminal laws that might apply to bullying behaviors, depending on the nature of the act. For example, if someone is physically hurting another person, assault statutes might apply. All 50 states have criminal harassment and/or stalking statutes, most of which include explicit reference to electronic forms.
So why does Michigan need a cyberbullying law anyway?
This means that legislators may believe that a specific cyberbullying law is unnecessary, because the current laws can be used to prosecute someone who is believed to be guilty of cyberbullying. For example, Michigan currently has statutes that make it illegal to assault, stalk or harass someone. We also have laws making it illegal to use a computer to commit a crime, which means that if you used your computer to harass a person, you could technically be charged with two different crimes.
In addition, in 2015 Governor Snyder signed Senate Bill 74 (now Public Act 478) into law, which made it a requirement for all Michigan schools to add cyberbullying to their anti-bullying policies. The legislation also required that the Michigan Department of Education create procedures for reporting this information to the state. So if we already have all of these laws in place, why do we need a cyberbullying statute?
According to Lucido, it’s because “This is an issue that goes beyond age, race, gender, and everything else, because everybody is on the internet. We have crimes in Michigan that if it’s done in person, it is prosecuted…if I say I’m going to beat someone up to their face, that’s assault. If I do on the internet, nobody’s getting prosecuted. That’s ridiculous. It’s still a threat and that should be illegal, no matter if it’s face-to-face or viewed on a computer screen.”
House Bill 5017 includes multiple different penalties for cyberbullying, ranging from a one-year misdemeanor for online assault, to a 20-year felony for any violation that results in a fatality. The bill covers all forms of intimidation that is transferred electronically from one person to another.