A Win for Parents, Michigan's new cyberbullying law about to take effect
A new law takes effect in Michigan this week that takes aim at cyberbullying, including hefty fines and jail time for violators convicted of online harassment. Per the new law, it is illegal to cyberbully another person and someone found guilty of the misdemeanor could face a maximum of 93 days in jail, a max fine of $500 or both. But if a violator has a prior conviction, they could face up to a year in jail, and/or a max $1,000 fine. Someone who violates the new law and displays "a continued pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior" that causes serious injury to the victim could face a felony that carries a maximum 5-year sentence and/or a $5,000 fine.
Under the new law, cyberbullying involves:
Posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person that is intended to put someone in fear of bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person.
Posting a message or statement with the intent to communicate a threat with the knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.
A pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior.
A public media forum is defined in the law as "the internet or any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individuals, regardless of whether a membership or password is required to view the information."
"Cyberbullying is a form of harassment that takes place through an electronic device, particularly over social media. For example, on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram Facebook or over text," he said. "It can be anything from sending rumors on social media or posting embarrassing photos intending to humiliate the person. It's often anonymous. Cyberbullies are more difficult to control, and the online distribution creates a wider audience and the attacks are always 24/7, therefore the victim cannot get away from the attack." Schuster said cyberbullying can have a number of negative effects, and explained that victims are more likely to skip/drop out of school, exhibit failing grades, begin to use alcohol or other substances, and show poor self-esteem.
Schuster named some warning signs that someone may be experiencing cyberbullying.
Avoiding certain social activities and social situations
High anxiety about attending school or riding a school bus
Dropping grades, or changes in school performance
Changes in moods — frequent sadness, irritability or depression that's different from normal teenage behaviors
Obsessive checking of texts or social media sites that are separate from normal
Withdrawing from family and friends
Schuster said parents might be able to help their children by teaching self-respect and modeling positive relationships, empathy and impulse control.
Schuster also suggested the following parenting actions to prevent cyberbullying.
Have discussions about responsible behavior and practice online safety
Teach your child to block or delete disrespectful friends from social media
Tell them that they should not be adding people that they do not know as friends
Speak frankly about the dangers of online behavior and online bullying
Set limits on daily computer and cellphone usage
Place computers and cellphones in common areas — prohibit cellphone/tablet use in private areas, like bedrooms and bathrooms
Check cellphones, get their passwords and see what they're doing
Remind your children that you are always available to listen to them if they are having any issues
"Please do not hesitate to use your parental prerogative and monitor their social media sites," he said.
"And most importantly, if you believe that they are having issues or being bullied online and showing signs and symptoms of being bullied, please do not hesitate to get professional help."
Schuster also encouraged parents to do their own research, citing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-run website.