Bullying has always been regarded as a dangerous behavior exhibited among children and adults alike. More recently, bullying has expanded into the realm of cyberspace. At the end of last year, Rebecca Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central Florida committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied in person and online. Sedwick was the target of offensive Facebook posts by classmates, ultimately causing her to take her own life.
Drawing national media spotlight, this cyberbullying case sparked a proposal to extend Florida’s anti-bullying law beyond the boundaries of school. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice advanced a bill on Wednesday, SB 548, with the intent of criminalizing online bullying.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, believes that there are “no limits” to the things people can do on the Internet. Simmons aims to address this issue by promoting legislation that would require online harassment to carry the same penalty as traditional bullying.
Last year, a Florida law was passed to prohibit cyberbullying. However, there was no criminal penalty for abusers, which has frustrated critics of the slow and weak implementation of the law. This new bill, Simmons believes, will reinforce bullying legislation by making it a second degree misdemeanor penalty for bullying and a first degree misdemeanor for aggravated bullying. This bill will include cyberbullying to address cases such as Sedwick’s tragedy. Individuals who don’t comply could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.