We have been talking about bullying in schools, from both a physical and emotional perspective on my show this week.  In fact several callers who are teachers or have retired from the teaching profession had called into the show to tell us about their experiences.

Those teachers told us that bullying has increased over the years and it is worse today than it had been in the past.

Why?

Because of social media and cyberbullying.  Now the cowards, which most bullies really are deep down inside, can hide behind their keyboards without worry of any serious consequences to befall on them.

Well that might change right here in Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that cyberbullying or bullying online could become a misdemeanor under new bills submitted and passed in the Michigan House of Representative.

House Bills (HB) 5017 and 5018 both passed on votes of 91-17 and 92-17 and now move to the Michigan Senate for their consideration and vote.  I can see no reason why these bills will not sail through the Senate on vote margins seen in the House and signed very quickly by Governor Snyder.

The bills would make cyberbullying or bullying someone online a misdemeanor crime which would be punishable up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.  A second attempt would increase the jail time and fines.

If the state can prove that the cyberbullying “was a continuing pattern against another person” and that pattern caused serious injury to the bullied, the crime would rise to a felony with a penalty of 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.  Now let us notch it up once more; if death resulted from the bullying, essentially the state could prove that the bullying caused the death, the penalties would then rise to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

I think this is great legislation as long as they define cyberbullying well enough that someone does not get caught on the bubble.  Some words could be considered “bullying” by some and not others.

In HB 5017 cyberbullying is defined as

(A) Someone posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person if both of the following apply:

  • The message or statement is intended to place a person in fear or bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person
  • The message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.

(B) “Pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” means a series of 2 or more separate noncontinuous acts of harassing or intimidating behavior

(C) “Public media forum” means the internet or any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individual, regardless of whether a membership or password is required to view the information.

The question is; is the definition as spelled out in the legislation tight enough, as usual it is in the eye of the beholder.

The sponsor of the bill State Representative Peter Lucido, a Republican from Shelby Township was quoted in the article saying:

Right now, you can't prosecute someone for an internet crime, but they're committing crimes over these electronic devices and we can't prosecute. We can't even bring a cop to a door to say enough is enough…We used to pass the note. We used tell each other face to face about how we feel. But now because you're not face to face, the personal interaction is taken out of it.

Currently there are 38 states that are attempting to legislate cyberbullying, Michigan will probably become number 39.

The time has come for us to address this cyberbullying epidemic and impress on young people, as well as adults who never left their childhood years, that we the people through our legislators mean business concerning their actions.

Let us just be very careful not to throw out a net so wide that innocent people are caught in it.