Ulster County Executive Mike Hein recently proposed new legislation that would make cyberbullying locally punishable by law. The proposal was announced Tuesday, Jan. 19, in light of national “No Name Calling Week.”
According to The Daily Freeman, the proposal states that a person will be guilty of cyber bullying when there is “intent to threaten abuse, intimidate, torment or otherwise inflict emotional harm on a minor.” Additionally, the proposal also states that an individual is guilty if he or she electronically transmit information not of public concern that they know will inflict emotional harm; electronically transmit private sexual information, or photographs or videos of uncovered breasts, buttocks or genitals of another; electronically transmit false sexual information about another; or knowingly appropriate the name or likeness of another.
Currently, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) enacted in September of 2010 aims to protect students from cyberbullying with penalties that are educational in nature including in or out of school suspension. Under DASA, school administrators are responsible to refer severe cases to law enforcement agencies who can only charge a student if the level of harassment rises to the level of criminal harassment under Penal Law.
According to Hein, his proposal intends to create “real penalties” for perpetrators of cyberbullying. If enacted, those found guilty of cyberbullying could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
A cyberbully can attack anonymously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it is possible for the bullying to go viral allowing many perpetrators to attack a single target. According to Hein, nearly 42 percent of teens are bullied online, and most parents and teachers do not have the technological know-how to monitor these situations.
Those who support the law believe that it is a tool to aid local law enforcement in combatting serious online harassment issues.
Anthony Prizzia, former owner of Village Pizza located at 81 N. Chestnut St., has employed many high school and college students and has seen many examples of individuals affected by cyberbullying. He believes that a law like this would provide law enforcement with tools to combat the issue and victims of cyberbullying with something more to stand on.
“In my opinion, they do need new laws to counteract what I feel is corrupt,” Prizzia said. “If you walked up to someone on the street and said or did some of the things that people do online you would be arrested for it. This shouldn’t be any different if it is put in digital form.”
However others, including local attorney Celeste Tesoriero, feel that the proposed law may compromise freedom of speech.
“I don’t know how this can possibly be construed as ‘narrow,’” Tesoriero said. “For instance, section (3)(1), ‘electronically transmits information not of public concern… knows will inflict emotional harm.’ Under this law, if I were to send a group text to my siblings that I felt my 17 year old brother had bad breath, I’m guilty of a misdemeanor and up to a year in jail. There are no other words for this type of language than ‘overly broad.’”
The proposed law remains as a draft at this time.