PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s a very serious issue — cyber bullying.

“There are lots of kids who are getting very, very hurt, and social media has only compounded the problems,” says Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union.

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Young people are using social media to bully others through ugly postings online.

“The effects of it are so devastating. We’ve seen or heard of individuals ultimately taking their lives,” adds Fred Massey of Family Links.

On Monday, the state House passed House Bill 229 to create a new crime called cyber harassment of a child.

That’s when a child or adult uses an electronic device or social media to make a “seriously disparaging statement or opinion about the child’s physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity or mental or physical health or condition or threat to inflict harm.”

The statement or opinion must be intended to cause “substantial emotional distress . . . and produces some physical manifestation of the distress.”

“Even mean speech, even what’s considered harassing speech, can be constitutionally protected,” says Walczak.

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But beyond free speech issues, Walczak worries about criminalizing cyber bullying.

“Kids have been mean forever. Do you really want to bring them into the criminal justice system because we’re talking about filing criminal charges against individuals,” he says. “That’s not the best place to deal with these kinds of problems. And then you’re saddling these kids with some kind of criminal record.”

Cyber harassment of a child would be a third-degree misdemeanor.

Adults could face up to a year in jail, while minors would go through juvenile court.

The bill does allow for expungement of the record once the young person has gone through treatment.

Fred Massey, at Family Links that counsels young people, says treatment is key.

“If it is allowed for a person to come in and receive these services and have to go through such a program that allows for them to make sure that they are learning and understanding the severity of their actions, I support that,” says Massey.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

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