By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The City Council unanimously approved a cyber bullying ordinance to address harassment online and make the crime punishable as a misdemeanor.
All six council members in attendance at the July 16 council meeting approved the ordinance that reflects a change in state law. Councilman David Bazzy was absent.
“The proposed ordinance is to accurately reflect the change in state law and to provide a more direct and clear means for prosecuting harassing behavior online and on social media,” Council President Susan Dabaja said. “The proposed ordinance fills a gap in local law and gives local police and prosecutors another tool to combat crime that is unfortunately becoming more prevalent.”
Former Gov. Rick Snyder approved the law Dec. 24, enrolled House Bill No. 5017 which went into effect on March 27.
According to both the state law and Dearborn ordinance, the term “cyber bully” “includes posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person if both of the following apply: the message or statement is intended to place a person in fear of bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person and the message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.”
“Public media forum” is defined as “the Internet of any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individuals, regardless of whether a membership or password is required to view the information,” according to the ordinance and Michigan law.
Dearborn Corporation Counsel Debra Walling explained that it’s not about where the law violators reside, but about where they are when they post the messages threatening someone else.
The ordinance would then be applied if the message was posted while the violator committed the crime in Dearborn.
“It’s where the crime is committed,” she said. “The city where the message is originating, was originated or posted not necessarily where the victim is but where the perpetrator is when they post the cyber bullying message.”
A violator found guilty of the misdemeanor could face up to 93 days in jail, a maximum fine of $500, or both. If the violator has a prior conviction, that person could face a maximum one year in jail and $1,000 fine.
Anyone who violates the law, “in a manner that involves a continued pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior and by that violation causes serious injury to the victim is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.”
Also, someone who demonstrates a continued online harassment pattern or intimidating behavior which causes death of the victim could face a maximum of 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The state law defines serious injury as, “permanent, serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or serious impairment of a bodily function of a person.”
Dearborn’s ordinance was first introduced during the June 18 council meeting. Councilwoman Erin Byrnes thanked the city’s legal department for bringing the ordinance forward and that cyber bullying is “all too timely of an issue.”
“Some families have lost their children to cyber bullying and I think this has a specially detrimental impact to women and girls in a way that’s very unique,” she said. “So, as a feminist I am very happy to see this come forward. I think it will go a long way toward protecting all people, again especially women and girls in the online community.
“As we see younger generations living more and more of their lives online and providing greater access to their daily lives, I think sometimes an unintended consequence of that is that it opens the door to bullying, and ‘bullying’ oftentimes is putting it mildly. This is a very serious issue.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])