State Senate passes cyberbullying bill 'Grace's Law 2.0'

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Maryland State Senate voted unanimously for Grace’s Law 2.0, a first of its kind in the nation law to combat the growing epidemic of cyberbullying of children.  Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Bobby Zirkin crafted the legislation to modernize Maryland’s law and to protect children from cyberbullying, which has become a national crisis. The nation has been forced to witness significant numbers of children tormented to the point of taking their own lives. According to the Center for Disease Control in 2017, the second leading cause of death among minors above the age of 10 was suicide.

Senate Bill 103 would place Maryland at the National forefront in the battle against online abuse. Other states, most notably, Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio have all passed legislation to try and combat online abuse of children.  Maryland’s law goes beyond those of other states in trying to protect children.  Senate Bill 103 updates definitions to insure that cyberbullying is prohibited on social media applications, Instant messaging services, internet websites, and other internet-based communication tools. The bill would criminalize multiple types of online tormenting of children when the abuser acts with malicious intent and has the effect on a child of physical injury or serious emotional distress. And the bill has a significant criminal penalty for an individual who cyberbullies a child and attempts to entice the child to commit suicide.

Importantly, an abuser could land in trouble with the law with a course of conduct, a series of communications, or a “single significant act” of cyberbullying.  And the communication would not need to be sent directly to the victim.  And so a particularly vicious attack on a child sent on the internet and posted to social media applications would be sufficient to fall under the heading of cyberbullying if done with malicious intent and serious effect on the child.  Actions such as subscribing a child to a pornographic website, using electronic communications to try and entice the stalking of a minor, and maliciously tormenting a child by disseminating sexual information about them would be prohibited. 

The bill is named in honor of Grace McComas, a 15-year-old from Howard County who, after repeated and vicious harassment online by a neighbor, committed suicide in April 2012. Her parents sought help from police, the courts, and Grace’s school but were unable to find any remedy to stop the repeated tormenting. “We have all heard the heartbreaking stories of Grace McComas and other children who have taken their own lives because of cyberbullying, and it is clear that the our law is insufficient to stop these tragedies from happening,” said Senator Zirkin. “I am confident that Grace’s Law 2.0 will protect victims and help deter abusers and bullies. Once this law is in place, I am hopeful that children in Maryland can be spared the fate of Grace McComas and her incredible family.”

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