Reporting Derek Valcourt
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — You may want to keep a close eye on what your kids post on the Internet. There’s a new push in Annapolis to criminalize so-called cyberbullying.
Derek Valcourt explains it’s all part of an effort to stop online cruelty among teens from turning tragic.
The cyberbullying bill has found a champion in one mother who wants to make sure what happened to her daughter doesn’t happen to any other kids.
Constant online harassment drove 16-year-old Grace McComas to take her own life last year. She got dozens of nasty messages on Facebook and Twitter. One was, “I hope you somehow see this and cry yourself to sleep, then kill yourself.” The message goes on to degrade her further.
“Those things shouldn’t be allowed. They are damaging to young people who are just getting a sense of who they are and figuring out where they fit in the world,” said Christine McComas.
Christine McComas is now teaming with Delegate Jon Cardin, who introduced a bill that would make repeated cyberbullying against minors a misdemeanor that could even be punished with time in juvenile detection.
“I know that we have First Amendment issues and I’m very deeply concerned about protecting people’s rights to free speech. At the same time, we cannot allow people to just present these threats, these direct, threatening, intimidating comments that are causing people to kill themselves,” Cardin said.
Maryland’s first lady Katie O’Malley will testify in support of the bill, as will many other advocates for safer schools, who say current laws aren’t strong enough.
Grace’s tormenter was never legally punished.
“We can’t litigate everything but we can put structure in place so that when they do stray, there’s consequences. And when there’s consequences, kids invariably learn,” said Ray Leone, Maryland PTA.
And with most kids now so tech-savvy, McComas hopes parents monitor their kids online and learn from her painful loss.
“I certainly can’t bring her back but I can honor her memory by making sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” McComas said.
Christine McComas is set to give lawmakers an earful when she testifies before a House committee on March 7.
Studies show one in four teenagers report they have been the victim of repeated cyberbullying.