Cyberbullying Bill Aims To Cut Down On Online Harassment

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A group of Maryland lawmakers takes steps to outlaw cyberbullying.

Political reporter Pat Warren explains how a bill to prevent harassment of minors on the Internet came about.

Her name is Grace McComas, a 15-year-old Glenelg High School student who took her own life last year after being bullied on social media.

Her Howard County family testified in favor of a bill that would make it a crime to bully minors. Supporters say it’s their best recourse to prevent emotional, psychological and sometimes fatal damage.

“I didn’t understand, I really didn’t. But I saw what it did to her and we tried to help her in every way we knew how and we were unable,” said mother Christine McComas.

Grace’s friends say too many people consider cyberbullying harmless.

“It’s not OK, it can really hurt someone. You don’t know what they’re going through, it can destroy their world. Even one little thing like ‘You’re ugly,'” said friends Casey Derosier and Jillian.

While members of the House Judiciary Committee see the need to address cyberbullying, some delegates believe harassment is already covered under civil law and question how criminalizing it affects the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“One thing that’s different is with the Internet you can turn it off. You’re saying instead of doing that, we have to then infringe upon the First Amendment and turn civil law into criminal law,” said Del. Michael Smigiel, Eastern Shore.

But supporters of the bill say the existing law is not enough. The bill requires committee approval before moving to the House floor for a vote.

The bill will also be heard in the Senate later this month.

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