COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A new law just went into effect making cyberbullying a crime.
Cyberbullying is defined as threatening or harassing someone using a mobile device or social media sites like Facebook.
The new law makes cyberbullying a misdemeanor crime, and anyone found guilty could face up to a $750 fine and six months in jail.
The new law was introduced by state Rep. Rhonda Fields and went into effect July 1.
We spoke with Fields over the phone Thursday. She said she hopes the increased punishment will start to deter people from logging on to harm others.
She and local law enforcement agree it has become a serious issue.
“It’s just gotten to the point…It’s out of control,” Fields said.
In Colorado Springs alone, there are 18 school resource officers and all of them have seen cyberbullying cases.
“It is not uncommon,” Officer David Pratt said. “I can remember when this was not an issue. I remember when Myspace first started out and that created some challenges, and then it progressed to Facebook with even more users and now we’ve got these apps out there like Yik-Yak where you can send things anonymously.”
Pratt believes that’s why this type of bullying has become the norm, affecting kids and teens across the nation.
“It makes it easy for them to perpetrate. It makes it hard to hold them accountable. It just really complicates things,” Pratt said.
But he and Fields are hoping many of the cases will become non-existent now that these bullies are facing some serious charges.
“Once you have laws on the book, I’m hoping it will be a deterrent and I’m hoping that people will, if they see someone being bullied, then they need to stand up against anyone that’s being a bully. It’s not cool to be a bully to people,” Fields said.
“I think it’s an important issue. We can’t minimize it. We have had kids targeted through cyberbullying and some of those kids have chosen to take their lives and harm themselves as a result of that,” Pratt said.
Colorado Springs police already have prevention and intervention efforts in place to stop cyberbullying, but this new law is a step forward in helping them protect kids and teens across Colorado.
“For parents in schools there is nothing more important than the safety and security of their kids, and we as school resource officers believe that too, that if kids don’t feel safe in their schools they’re not going to learn and that’s their primary mission and we’re there to help serve that,” Pratt said.
Pratt said they do try other methods before immediately charging a child with a crime that could be on their record forever. But he said depending on the case, the cyberbullies need to be held accountable and charged with the misdemeanor.