A new crackdown OK'd by Illinois state lawmakers could mean tougher prison sentences for social media users who incite violent "flash mob" attacks using sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The Illinois House approved the bill Friday as part of an effort to curb violent scenes that have in the past erupted on Chicago's Magnificent Mile and other tourist areas.
The proposed law gives judges the power to impose prison sentences of three to six years on anyone convicted of using electronic communications to stir mob violence. Currently, the offense is a class 4 felony with a one to three year penalty.
"These are new times where people are using electronic mechanisms to communicate to commit crimes in our neighborhoods," said Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), according to the Associated Press. "When criminals change with the times we have to adjust ourselves accordingly."
Sponsoring Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), agreed, saying the law gives police the "ability to keep up with the changing times,” the Tribune reports.
The Sun-Times reports debate on the bill was "one-sided but intense," during which Mitchell invoked the January murder of 15-year old Hadiya Pendelton and questioned whether cracking down on social media-based communications could help diffuse Chicago's violence problem.
"Gangs are different," Mitchell said of modern-day groups. "They are more splintered. They are block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, rather than region-by-region. And they are organizing using Twitter and social media."
Still, opponents argued the well-intentioned law would have little real impact on making the streets safer. The AP reports critics of the bill worried innocent kids could get caught up in a mob scene and then snared by a tough sentence.
Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), argued the legislation merely creates "an overcrowded court docket, an overcrowded jail and an expense that the rest of us taxpayers have to pay," the Sun-Times reports.
The bill, which the Senate approved 52-0 last month, now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn.