A new law, House Bill No. 5017, took effect in Michigan this week that officially defines cyberbullying as a crime. According to the new law, someone found guilty of the misdemeanor could face a maximum of 93 days in jail, a max fine of $500 or both. If a violator has a prior conviction, they could face up to a year in jail, and/or a max $1,000 fine. The bill was passed 91 to 17 in the House on March 22, 2018 which is perhaps a large indicator of the scale of this issue and the urgency for the remedial measure.
The penalties escalate for anyone who continues harassing behavior, causing any injury to another person. Ultimately someone could face a felony conviction, which carries a maximum 5-year sentence and/or a $5,000 fine. If someone causes the death of a victim, they are then subject to 10 years of jail time and an up to $10,000 fine.
Bullying is on the rise. One out of every three students is bullied in some form by their peers. Just in the United States alone, 10 million students per year are affected. With the use of technological devices and the internet readily available at our fingertips, there is no escaping the taunting that occurs even when people are in the safe confines of their own home.
Cyberbullying is dangerous. Not only is it highly visible but the fallout is also permanent. Children especially are unaware of the long term ramifications of what they post online. It is easier for people to hide behind a screen, not taking into account that their online and offline character are one and the same.
Making cyberbullying a crime could have massive ramifications for individuals, as well as families and communities. This new lens places more pressure, especially on parents and educators, to educate children around positive online behavior. Young children (8 and under) spend an average of two hours a day with screen media and this time increases every year. 38 percent of children under the age of two are now using smartphones and tablets the way children eight and under were using them two years ago. Like so many other aspects of a child’s life, digital experiences, skills, interests, and use mature and evolve over time. At the same time, parents’ roles and approaches to monitoring, mediating, and guiding their children’s use of technology and digital behavior must also evolve and advance.
No Bully, a nonprofit organization that eradicates bullying and ignites compassion worldwide, has developed a new campaign called Power of Zero, which focuses on connecting all aspects of a child’s development with the opportunities and challenges of an interconnected world. Powered by global organizations, civil society, parents and teachers across the world, Power of Zero provides families and early educators with books, games and learning materials to prepare children starting at age zero for the technology and connectivity they will experience in their lives. You may download the free resources at https://www.powerof0.org/resources/.
It will be interesting to observe the effects of this new bill as it is enforced and whether it succeeds in deterring digital citizens from committing cyberbullying. It will also be interesting to see if other states follow suit. In any case, we can all agree that bullying is an epidemic that needs serious attention on a global scale. We need to stop viewing bullying as a rite of passage but recognize that we all need to do our part to bring more awareness to this issue and to ignite more compassion in the world.