ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday signed into law legislation to expand Maryland’s prohibition on the cyberbullying of youngsters, as parents of a teenager driven to suicide by online harassment stood behind him.
The expanded law, dubbed Grace’s Law 2.0, will outlaw a one-time online bullying incident conducted with the perpetrator’s knowledge that his or her single post would probably be liked, shared or otherwise reposted multiple times.
“Everybody needs to be aware of this law… so it can act as a deterrent,” said Christine McComas, whose daughter Grace killed herself on Easter Sunday 2012 after being called “worthless” online by an older teenager, who also posted vulgar insults and a death threat.
“It matters how we act; it matters what we say to people,” said McComas, holding a framed photo of Grace. “What we want to do is change behavior.”
Grace’s father said the law’s expansion brings some solace.
“We can turn this into something good,” said David McComas, wearing an “Amazing Grace” tie. “That’s wonderful.”
The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, targets online posts that intentionally intimidate or harass a minor, causing the child to suffer a physical injury or serious emotional distress.
Hogan called the measure “critical” public safety legislation to protect children.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he welcomed the measure as a father and grandfather.
“Nobody wants their child … pushed, bullied,” said Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert.
The statute expands the first “Grace’s Law,” enacted in 2013, which made it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine to engage in a continuous course of bullying online.
The chief sponsors of the expansion said the initial law’s mention of continuous conduct had proven too narrow.
Online abuse does not require the perpetrator to send a deliberately hurtful message multiple times to do harm, since a single post can be expected to be liked, shared or otherwise reposted by others countless times, said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin and Del. Jon S. Cardin, both Baltimore County Democrats.
The expanded law, Senate Bill 103, increases the punishment to up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Zirkin said Thursday that he expects the General Assembly to adjust the law in coming years to ensure children remain protected in the ever-expanding world of social media.
“There will be more apps and new technology,” Zirkin said. “We’ve got to keep up with this.”