Maryland's Terrible Cyberbullying Law Gets Worse With The Addition Of Jail Sentences For Inducing Suicide Attempts
from the 'strongest'-laws-are-rarely-the-best-crafted-laws dept
Maryland legislators — pretty much all of them — are congratulating themselves for making it easier to put kids in jail.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Thursday gives Maryland families unparalleled protections against online harassment aimed at their children, a leading lawmaker said, and could serve as a template for national legislation.
Senate Bill 103 and its House companion HB 181 was dubbed Grace’s Law 2.0 by its chief sponsor, Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), because it built on a measure passed in 2013 following the suicide death of Howard County teen Grace McComas.
Well, let’s hope it’s not a “template for national legislation.” It’s a bad law, as laws named after dead people often are. No matter how many minors are locked up, it won’t make her death any less of a senseless tragedy.
The law [PDF] won’t just target kids, of course. But it’s built around the death of a child, so it will most often be wielded against children. The alteration of an existing cyberharassment law comes with a possible ten-year jail sentence attached.
This critical alteration is added to a cyberbullying law that’s already filled with vague terms and allows prosecutors to decide what’s harassing or annoying — or in the case of the add-on, what has pushed someone to commit suicide. The original “Grace’s law” already created a hotline of sorts for state government employees to directly pressure Facebook to remove posts deemed to have “no societal value.” This amendment has been added solely to create a lengthier sentence for electronic communications tied to someone’s suicide. The existing vague definitions haven’t been altered, which means there’s a lot of grey area prosecutors can explore.
Although the measure passed the General Assembly unanimously — 45-0 in the Senate and 137-0 in the House — it was opposed by the ACLU of Maryland.
Toni Holness, the group’s public policy director, said in February that the bill fails to adequately define what constitutes a “true threat.”
Holness also was concerned about other words in the bill that had not been defined: encourage, provoke, sexual information, intimidating, tormenting.
“There’s way too much prosecutorial discretion in these terms that are not defined,” she said.
Considering the hefty new ten-year sentence (along with an increase from one to three years in jail for regular cyberbullying) being installed here, this statement — from the mother of child the law is named after — makes zero sense.
“We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” Christine McComas said. “What we want to do is change the behavior so the internet is more kind.”
Maybe not Christine personally. But the state certainly is interested in charging children and putting them in jail. If it weren’t interested, the law wouldn’t have been written, much less passed unanimously and put into force. Attaching jail sentences to the legislative equivalent of thoughts and prayers won’t make the internet more kind, but it will ensure more prosecutions of children, if that’s what state legislators really want.