Be careful what you post on the internet in the state of Michigan.
Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill this week that defines cyberbullying as a misdemeanor offense that can carry a jail term of up to 93 days, along with $500 in potential fines. As the Metro Times reported, the new law takes effect in March and can lead to even greater punishment for those who show “repeated harassment,” or in cases that have more severe consequences. In the case of repeat offenders, it can be elevated to a felony with up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. In cases where cyberbullying leads to a victim’s death, the penalties can be bumped up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The new law comes as cyberbullying has been in the spotlight nationwide, being blamed for a spate of suicides among young targets. In one case, a 13-year-old Michigan girl took her own life after being targeted for bullying by her peers on social media. Many called for the bullies to face charges, but police at the time noted that they did not violate any laws, the Metro Times reported. That led to the creation of the law, which had bipartisan support in Michigan.
As the Telegraph reported, a recent study found that victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to self harm or attempt suicide. Researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Swansea and Birmingham, reviewed studies on cyberbullying that included more than 150,000 subjects under the age of 25, finding that cyberbullying increased suicide risks by 2.3 times.
Researchers called for a response that attacked cyberbullying on multiple fronts.
“Prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies, alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene; and more specific interventions such as how to contact mobile phone companies and internet service providers to block, educate, or identify users,” the study noted.
That was the approach taken by lawmakers in Michigan, with the new law identifying cyberbullying as any message posted in a public media forum intended to place a person in fear of bodily harm or expresses intent to commit violence against the person.
As he signed the law, Snyder said that cyberbullying can be just as damaging as traditional bullying, so it was important that lawmakers deemed it as a crime.
“With this bill, we are sending a message that bullying of any kind is not tolerated in Michigan,” Snyder said.