New year brings new law targeting cyberbullying

Facebook profiles can be set up within minutes to catch up with old friends, but they can also be used to spread rumors and maliciously hurt people.

Starting Saturday, however, using a fake online profile or e-mail address to harm others can lead to a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail. The law that creates the new penalties is one of hundreds in California that is taking effect in the new year.

Introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the Facebook law is in reaction to the growing problems surrounding cyberbullying and e-impersonation that are affecting children and adults nationwide.

“What people thought was just a prank is now a violation of law,” Simitian said. “I hope this is the first step in changing behavior.”

SB 1411, which was signed into law in September, updates an existing impersonation law, originally passed in 1872, to make “online impersonators who assume someone else’s identity to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud” a crime, according to Simitian.

Cyberbullying has garnered nationwide attention in the past year, with at least three teens committing suicide last fall because of harsh teasing online by their peers.

Simitian listed examples of suicides by teens who were bullied — 18-year-old Tyler Clementi of New Jersey, who was outed as gay by his roommate on the Internet; 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana, who hanged himself after continued bullying from his peers about his sexuality; and 13-year-old Asher Brown of Texas, who shot himself after years of abuse online.

But youths are not the only victims.

Carl Guardino has been affected by the simplicity of creating an e-mail address. The CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group had a person create a fake e-mail address and send malicious notes out to professional contacts harshly criticizing the work of the recipients three times in the past two years.

Guardino said he might know who the culprit is, but the person has not been caught. He hopes the new law will be a deterrent in the future.

“Luckily, [those who received the e-mail] know me well enough to know that e-mail was out of character,” Guardino said. “They said awful things. It could have ruined my reputation.”

Steve DeWarns, a police officer in the East Bay and founder of, said on the surface the law is a good idea, but he questioned its ability to help investigators crack cases.

“I’m hoping this law provides more awareness that people are going to take it serious,” DeWarns said.

He said the ease with which anyone can create a profile or e-mail account is what makes tracking and finding the culprits that much more difficult.

“When relationships dissolve or a business partnership breaks up, people are looking at ways to lash out, so they go online and say all kinds of things,” DeWarns said. “You can still do that, now you just can’t pretend to be someone else.”


California abides

Hundreds of new laws take effect Saturday.


Keeping kids in school

SB 1317: Parents of K-8 children who miss more than 10 percent of the school year without a valid excuse can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.


Stricter motorcycle rule

AB 2499: People under the age of 21 must complete a safety course for motorcycles before being issued a permit


Water, water everywhere

SB 1413: Free drinking water for students will be provided in school cafeterias or food service areas; schools must comply by July 1


Cleaner jewelry

SB 929: Children’s jewelry that contains cadmium is banned from being sold in California; the state already prohibits lead in children’s jewelry


Home safety

SB 782: Landlords will not be able to evict tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking


Extended benefits

AB 12: Foster youth eligible for state services will now be able to keep benefits until they turn 21


Minor pot possession not a misdemeanor

SB 1449: Any adult in California older than 18 carrying no more than 28.5 grams of marijuana will now be guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $100


Another state holiday

SB 1057: State offices will now be closed on Veterans Day

Source: Governor’s Office


Local pol looking for lawmaking spirit in community

Ever drive down a major road and have debris fall from a truck onto your car?

Perhaps it is not a problem that a lawmaker in Sacramento would think of and work to legislate stiffer fines for the perpetrators.

A law by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would have increased the fines, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 despite passing the Legislature.

The idea for what almost became a law did not originate with Hill, though. It came from a voter in Half Moon Bay.

Each year, Hill asks for ideas and suggestions from constituents on what “Oughta Be a Law.” Though the law about the truck debris was not signed by the governor, it was the first of two introduced by the legislator that came from those who voted him into office.

Hill said although he does a lot of work to introduce and create bills that will benefit all Californians, people who live and work here know well what should be made into law.

Suggestions he has received include requiring companies who sell ink for printers to lower their prices and creating a maximum noise level for music in restaurants.

“You could always avoid that restaurant,” he said. “But you never know what people will suggest. There are some really good ideas out there.”

Hill has already held two “There Ought to Be a Law … Or Not” contests and is beginning his third. State Sens. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, also have encouraged input from voters.

Hill, who has received 250 submissions since 2008, is accepting new ideas through Jan. 31.

Only one entrant is chosen, Hill said. The “winner” will have the opportunity to travel to Sacramento and testify on behalf of the bill.

— Andrea Koskey

Bay Area NewsFacebookLocalSan Francisco

Just Posted

A large crack winds its way up a sidewalk along China Basin Street in Mission Bay on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco’s sinking sidewalks: Is climate change to blame?

‘In the last couple months, it’s been a noticeable change’

For years, Facebook employees have identified serious harms and proposed potential fixes. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have rejected the remedies, causing whisteblowers to multiple. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)
Facebook’s problems at the top: Social media giant is not listening to whistleblowers

Whistleblowers multiply, but Zuckerberg and Sandberg don’t heed their warnings

Maria Jimenez swabs her 7-year-old daughter Glendy Perez for a COVID-19 test at Canal Alliance in San Rafael on Sept. 25. (Penni Gladstone/CalMatters)
Rapid COVID-19 tests in short supply in California

‘The U.S. gets a D- when it comes to testing’

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led a late-game comeback against the Packers, but San Francisco lost, 30-28, on a late field goal. (Courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)
The Packers beat the Niners in a heartbreaker: Don’t panic

San Francisco is no better and no worse than you thought they were.

A new ruling will thwart the growth of solar installation companies like Luminalt, which was founded in an Outer Sunset garage and is majority woman owned. (Philip Cheung, New York Times)
A threat to California’s solar future and diverse employment pathways

A new ruling creates barriers to entering the clean energy workforce

Most Read