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.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, bobby zirkin, cyberbullying, grace mccomas, grace's law, jailing kids, maryland


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:26am

    directly pressure Facebook to remove posts deemed to have "no societal value."

    Whelp, good thing we have the government ready to tell us which posts are valuable or not.

    (Yeah, I know some here will say it covers all of Facebook, but it has value to me for scheduling meetings and events.)

    Was this law from Maryland or China?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:53am

      Re:

      Your comment is super depressing. Now I want to commit suicide. You're lucky I don't live in Maryland.

      But seriously, a comment or even a conversation on the net isn't enough to drive anyone to suicide. For that to happen they have to already have a lot of depression in their life. A thoroughly depressed person could be triggered to suicide by just about anything -- seeing a neighbor playing with their fuzzy kitten could remind them of the kitten they don't have, etc, etc, etc.

      This law is way beyond stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 6:40am

        Re: Re:

        "This law is way beyond stupid."

        Agreed. this is worse than a band-aid law which will not assist those targeted by bullies but WILL be abused by any troll who feels factual confrontation is "mean".

        Suicidal depression has a reason. Sometimes clinical, more often due to trauma. The rumor mill, whether online or offline, only serves to remind the victim of the underlying cause.

        A sensible law would offer vindication for the actual victimization. this only offers to shut everyone up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:58am

    You've missed...

    ...the point of these type of laws.

    They're not to protect anyone.

    The sole reason for them is good photo-ops for the sponsors. Nothing more.

    NY sees a flood of these "named laws" on pretty much a yearly basis. NY politicians have gotten better at the game than the above example, though. They take an existing law, copy it word for word, then title it "Somekids Law" and pass it.

    Same happens when a cop gets killed, even if it's by their own stupidity - we had one a few years ago with an ever-changing story until they passed a "new" law named after a dead officer that made it... illegal to flee the scene.

    First story, the cop tried catching a guy riding a motorcycle with his Tahoe cruiser, missed a turn and rolled it. When it was pointed out that high speed chases were illegal in NY, the claim changed to him chasing a speeding motorcycle at 35 mph. The immediate reaction of the public was to ask if he'd passed the basic driving test.

    It went on for months, and then, in the midst of it all, the politicians said "screw it" and passed it anyway, since it had no actual effect on the existing laws it mirrored - just "honored" a cop who died "in the line of duty".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:33pm

      Re: You've missed...

      It sounds like something that a dedicated Lexx cult group could pass for Stanley Tweedle, Security Guard, class four of his divine shadow, of the Ostral-B pair.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:44am

    The School To Prison Pipeline is a proud sponsor of this legislation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:45am

    conformation confirmed

    The goal of these types of laws is conformation to popular opinion, even if the ideology is wrong. Christians who disagree with homosexuals will be labeled bullies in:
    3...2...1...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:31am

      Re:

      Did it hurt...when you crawled up from hell?

      Everything isn't about persecuting Christians & you should be careful.. after all we have the power to summon god's rage to punish everyone for not casting us out and I dunno if your trailer can survive a tornado.

      You go to the corner & think about what you have done!

      Then reread the article until you come up with a comment thats actually on topic.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:26am

    Here's an idea: don't tell people to go kill themselves.

    Excellent law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:31am

    What we want to do is change the behavior so the internet is more kind.

    What a fucking retarded statement.

    Humans have been on this planet for quite a number of years, and if the fucked up "good book" isn't changing behavior, this law sure as hell won't.

    People need to stop trying to control other people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:37pm

      Re:

      LOL - these are the same people who call others snowflakes and they want the internet to be more kind to them (emphasis on them).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:35am

    What can we do so we don't have to spend any money teaching children right from wrong??
    We'll pass a law
    lets name it after that dead kid!!
    Perfect, everyone will vote for it to avoid any bad publicity!
    then we can waste more tax dollars on defending the stupid law!
    PERFECT!

    Much like the laws of Australia can't change the law of Math, the laws of Maryland can't stop kids from being shitty to each other.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:22pm

    Yeah, you kinda are...

    “We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” Christine McComas said.

    Does the law in question apply to kids? Does it allow them to be charged, fined and/or jailed because of it? Because if so, and you still supported it, then yes, you are interested in charging children, fining them, and/or putting them in jail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 25 Apr 2019 @ 2:53pm

    Dear parents: you've raised your children to be more susceptible to outside influence (people who don't care about them) than to your own (people [supposedly] who do care about them). Just remember... if/when they choose to kill themselves due to being "bullied" ...it's all your fault for making them so reliant on the opinions of others instead of believing in themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 3:33pm

      Re:

      That's pretty shitty and reductive.

      Slogans from after-school specials notwithstanding, suicide is often the result of depression or other serious psychological issues that you can't just "believe in yourself" your way out of.

      That doesn't mean that legislation like this is the solution -- it clearly isn't -- but neither is knee-jerk blame-the-parents nonsense.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 6:50am

        Re: Re:

        "That doesn't mean that legislation like this is the solution -- it clearly isn't -- but neither is knee-jerk blame-the-parents nonsense."

        At the end of the day the only sustainable solution is to prevent or at least mitigate gangs of children turning other children's lives into hell. And that'll only work if adults become involved.

        Which may be a bit of an issue if there's just the one parent who already works three shifts or if the family as a whole is living in a "fiscally disadvantaged" area where it's already considered pretty good if the drug dealers have to do their business on the schoolyard rather than right in the hallways.

        It all boils down to how many resources society is willing to throw at the problem - and that, even in socialized societies, is usually "not much".

        far cheaper just to write another law which will do no good and quite a lot of harm.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 4:11am

    Opposite-Speak

    “We’re not interested in charging children or putting them in jail or fining them,” Christine McComas said.

    Right, just like the EU's Article 13 (sic 17) wouldn't require filters. We now understand Internet opposite-speak - thanks for making your true goals clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 7:26am

    Just the term "no societal value." conjures up images of 1984

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.