Cyberbullies Face Misdemeanor Charges, Fines, and Jail Time if Caught in Michigan

October is National Cyberbullying Awareness Month, the ideal time to point out that using a computer, smartphone, tablet, or another electronic device to bully could land you in hot water.

Cyberbullying is illegal in Michigan, and someone found guilty of the misdemeanor could face 93 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, or both. Those with a prior conviction face up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If the harassment results in the death of the victim, the person found guilty could face up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine, or both.

According to the law, also known as House Bill No. 5017, which took effect on March 27, cyberbullying involves:

  • Posting a message or statement on a public media forum about any other person to put fear of bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person.
  • Posting a message or statement with the plan to communicate a threat with the knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.

The law defines a public media forum as the internet or any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individuals, regardless of whether membership or password is required to view the website.

Even if the behavior or messages do not rise to the level of a misdemeanor or felony under the new law, cyberbullying may also be a misdemeanor under local harassment ordinances. It is often defined as a form of harassment that takes place over an electronic device, particularly over social media. Harassment can be anything from posting photos intended to embarrass a person to spreading rumors.

Michigan school districts will also regulate cyberbullying, harassment, and other forms of bullying. They are all required to adopt and implement policies to prevent cyberbullying.

If your municipality or school district needs assistance with enacting appropriate ordinances or policies, or if you or your child need assistance with understanding or navigating these laws, the attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are ready to help.