Ulster County Legislature is currently reviewing a proposed law that would outlaw cyberbullying, with adjudicated juvenile delinquent pursuant to Article III of the Family Court Act, for offenders under the age of 16 and misdemeanor charges for those older than 16. Repeat violators could be sentenced to jail.
The proposed law was sent back to the legislative committee for further consideration due to concerns that the law would turn young perpetrators into criminals. Even though youths may be eligible for youthful offender status, the possibility of those found guilty of cyberbullying ending up with criminal records is causing pause.
Laws and Rules, Governmental Services Deputy Chairman David Donaldson describes himself as one of the hold outs at this time.
“My concerns lie in the idea that a 16-year-old could get a record for doing something stupid or in fact reacting on Facebook to get even with someone,” he said. “Not the best thing to do but a record for it then limits his or her choices in the future.”
According to the proposed law, local legislative bodies recognize the occurrence of cyberbullying within the county. Therefore, the county feels an obligation to protect children from this type of harassment.
Laws and Rules, Governmental Services Chairman Kevin Roberts will be voting yes for this law and believes that it is necessary in this digital age.
“Sometimes it takes a while for the law to catch up with technology and I think this is it,” he said.
The proposed law states that a person is guilty of cyberbullying when “with the intent to harass, abuse, intimidate, torment, or otherwise inflict emotional harm on a minor, the actor electronically transmits, anonymously or otherwise:” information detrimental to the minor’s reputation, private sexual information about the minor, pornographic photos of the minor, false sexual information about the minor and “information that has no legitimate communicative purpose by appropriating the minor’s name, likeness, e-mail accounts, websites, blogs for the purpose of harassing such minor or other minors.”
Roberts feels that the wording of the law is cut and dry and that it will only kick during the most extreme cases of cyber-bullying. He added that the law does not take into effect in cases where someone is wise or rude on social media or when people are arguing over the internet.
According to Donaldson, changes were made to the wording of the initial legislation in order to lessen the penalties and Roberts added that both the victim and the perpetrator of the cyberbullying would have to be in Ulster County for the crime to fall under Ulster County jurisdiction.
“I don’t think it takes into effect someone from Ulster County bullying somebody in Minnesota or somebody in Ohio bullying someone from New Paltz,” Roberts said. “We’re looking to protect college and school kids that are most susceptible to the bullying part of that.”
If approved, this law will take effect 90 days after it is filed with the Office of the Secretary of State.
“It protects the victims and it appears to be fair to the perpetrators,” Roberts said. “It’s got a couple fail-safes, we’re not looking to ruin anybody’s lives, we know kids are kids but we also want to protect the victims.”