Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Saturday legislation that calls for stiffer penalties on people who text or use social media to organize mob attacks.
Social media has made it easier for groups of people to orchestrate violent crimes throughout the city, including those releated to gang activity and some recent problems along the Magnificent Mile shopping district in downtown Chicago, legislators said.
“As we know in recent months, we have had a serious problem with the use of social media to cause harm to people and property,” said Quinn, before signing the bill at Pioneer Court near Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. “We don’t want anyone using social media to harm anyone.”
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said police told him that there had been an incident recently where a young woman was shot by a rival gang member after she posted a picture on Facebook that revealed where she was at the time.
“That ought not be tolerated on Michigan Avenue and it ought not be tolerated on the South Side of Chicago,” said Raoul, who sponsored the bill.
Under the new law, which goes into effect immediately, judges have discretion to impose a more severe sentence on anyone who uses electronic media to organize a group of people to commit violent crimes.
Previously, those who were convicted of using electronic communication to organize violent mob action could face a prison sentence of between one and three years. The new law changes the potential prison time to between three and six years.
The new legislation only targets people who organize the criminal activities, though participants may be subjected to other penalties.
Critics of the bill have argued that it would drive up prison costs and have little effect on violence.
The measure sailed through the state senate and house. It was sent to the Governor on Friday, winning praise from business groups who say the attacks can deter tourists and local shoppers in downtown Chicago.
“We want to [retain] safe places for people to come and shop and enjoy our city,” said Illinois Retail Merchants Association vice president Tanya Triche, who attended Saturday’s signing.