Cyber-bullying is now a criminal offense in Michigan.
As of March 27, harassing or intimidating behavior on a public forum is a misdemeanor. A guilty verdict can lead to a maximum of 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
If someone displays “a continued pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior” that causes serious injury to a victim, they can be charged with a felony and/or a $5,000 fine.
Jail time goes up to a decade and/or a $10,000 fine if the harassment causes death.
Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder approved Bill No. 5017 in December of last year.
Lt. Eric Sandborn works at the Livingston County Sheriffs Department, and he says he investigates 3-5 Cyber-bullying cases a month.
“We have incidences where kids end up taking their own lives over, ya know because of the constant repeated harrassment. So its for us to use, to be able to intervene before it ever gets to that type of situation”
Kevin Epling became an advocate against bullying after his son, Matt committed suicide in 2002. Matt was not a victim of cyber-bullying, but Kevin believes a law like this is would have been helpful around the time of his son’s passing.
Epling, however, fears one essential element is still missing.
“There’s no education component to this at all, it’s just saying you did something wrong, and these are the ramifications. But I think people need to understand what cyber-bullying is, and what it is not.”
Livingston County has begun the education process through its Community Outreach Unit. Police Officers from Howell and the Livingston division visit local schools and teach them what harassment is, and the new consequences.
“We really want to get that message out to the kids at a young age, so that they understand that this is where it’s going.”- Sandborn
Critics of the new law say terms like “intimidating” and “harassing” are up for interpretation. Many fear the law will be over-used and minors will get criminal records too soon, and at an alarming rate.
For more information on cyber-bullying visit www.cyberbullying.org