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 It will soon be illegal to bully someone online.

 Former Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Thursday, Dec. 27 a bill that defines cyberbullying as a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and fine. The new law will take effect in March.

 The bill was introduced by then-State Rep. Peter Lucido (R-Dist. 36), who was elected to the State Senate in November. Punishment for a misdemeanor could include 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.

 While speaking before the House Law and Justice Committee, Lucido said, “I’m a firm believer in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but hate speech, threats and intimidation are not universally accepted forms of free expression.

 “We’re seeing more and more of this kind of behavior online and it’s not free speech. It’s permanently damaging lives and encouraging suicide among the young and old alike. It has no boundaries and Michigan is overdue to establish limitations.”

 According to the law, “cyberbullying” includes posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person if both the following apply:

• The message or statement is intended to place a person in fear of 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.

 A repeat offender could face a one-year sentence or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

 Some involved in a “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior and by that violation causes serious injury to the victim” is guilty of a crime punishable by not more than five years and/or a fine not more than $5,000. In the law, a “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” is defined as a series of two or more separate noncontinuous acts of harassing or intimidating behavior.

 “Serious injury” means permanent, serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health or serious impairment of a bodily function.

 If this harassment or intimidating behavior causes death, the violator is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years and/or a fine not more than $10,000.

Key U.S. research on the impact of cyberbullying includes the following:

• As of August 2016, 16.9 percent of middle and high school students identified themselves as cyberbully victims. Source: Cyberbullying Research Center

• Among adolescents, 36.7 percent of female respondents stated they’d be the victim of cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime, compared to 30.5 percent of boys. Source: Cyberbullying Research Center

• Most online behaviors and threats to well-being are mirrored in the offline world. Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science

• 34 percent of students claimed to have been bullied online at least once in their lifetime. Source: Florida Atlantic University

• 17 percent of students explained that they’d been bullied sometime within the past 30 days. Source: Florida Atlantic University

• Roughly, 64 percent of students who claimed to have been cyberbullied explained that it negatively impacted both their feelings of safety and ability to learn at school. Source: Florida Atlantic University

• Adolescents who engaged in cyberbullying were more likely to be perceived as “popular” by their peers. Source: Journal of Early Adolescence

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