Cyberbullying threats increase online, new bill aims to stop it in Michigan

Posted at 6:42 AM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 08:09:13-04

Parents may be shocked to find that more and more kids are becoming victims of threats while online gaming.

As the summer begins, more and more young children will find themselves playing video games online.

“It’s about enjoying your time playing by yourself or with friends,” said Ryan Monaghan, a gamer who got his start while in middle school.

Monaghan is a proponent of online gaming, but he admits that things can turn ugly — and young players need to be prepared.

“You can get those instances of swearing or cursing,” said Monaghan. “Stuff that no one wants to know, saying stuff about your parents. It’s a big deal, I had it when I was younger and playing Call of Duty.”

McAfee’s new study suggests that nearly two in three children are playing online games which exponentially increases the likelihood they will be exposed to cyber threats.

Cyberbullying, of course, isn’t just limited to online gaming. While bullying online has been around for years, the situation has become such a concern that State Rep. Pete Lucido has written legislation to make cyberbullying a crime in Michigan.

“There has to be responsibility for one’s words or actions. We should all know when we cross that line with what we say no matter whether it with our voice or typed in,” said Rep. Lucido, of Shelby Township. “The time is now for Michigan to stop sweeping communicated threats under the rug.”

The legislation, which is currently awaiting consideration on the Senate floor, would make a first offense of cyberbullying under the plan may be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Second or subsequent violations carry penalties up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the online intimidation escalates to an assault or serious injury, offenders may be charged with a felony with up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. If the offense leads to someone taking their own life, it’s a felony punishable up to 10 years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.

“If you cause death, which we’ve seen in the paper — we’ve listened to in the media, it’s a 10-year felony,” said Lucido. “You may n to have any remorse for this because you’re saying you’re allowed to say what you say, but if you’ve gone beyond the Constitutionally protected speech you don’t have that right anymore.”

Lucido said his bills would be an added tool for law enforcement to combat cyberbullying. Just as schools have a zero-tolerance bullying policy on school grounds, the bills (if they become law) could give law enforcement an opportunity to stop bullies.

While it seems like the bill is aimed at children, Lucido pointed out that it’s not something that will only be targeting school-aged children.

“Now one may say, ‘Just shut the phone off, shut down the computer,’” said Lucido. “What society are they living in? We live and die by the computer. That thing has become a tether to every one of us that we have to rely upon that for information and for the sake of doing our jobs everyday.”

As for McAfee, they’ve determined some kids are set to spend nearly 15 hours a week playing video games despite concerns of violence, sexual images or sensitive information.

“Over the years gaming has grown dramatically in popularity and it’s now become an everyday habit for many people, particularly children,” said Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at McAfee. “There are many advantages to playing video games, and they can be a great tool at parents’ disposal during the summer months where they need to keep their children entertained while trying to manage everything else. But, it is imperative that parents understand the risks to their children while playing video games, do their own research about the games that their children are playing and know how to provide proper guidance to their children to keep them safe online.”

McAfee offers up ways to better protect your children via a specific A-B-C to do list:
* Avoid malicious links. If your children are searching online for gaming tips or new games to download, a tool like McAfee Web Advisor can help them avoid dangerous websites and links, and will warn them if they do accidentally click on something malicious.
* Be protected. No matter what anyone in the family is doing online, it’s best to use a security product like McAfee Total Protection that can help keep connected devices safe from malware. Just like any PC application, be sure to keep security software updated with the latest software version.
* Control how long they play. By using parental control software to set time limits on your child’s device usage, you help minimize exposure to potentially malicious or inappropriate websites.