And Here Comes the Legislative Fallout

Back at the beginning of the month, I wrote about the Megan Meier’s suicide case and the prosecution of Lori Drew.

My stance on that hasn’t changed, and the appeal has not been resolved (don’t hold your breath).

However, there have been some new developments, 18 new developments to be precise.  Eighteen states have adopted new laws to target online harassment, including the state of Missouri.

I haven’t looked at all of the laws, but to show a portion of Illinois’s:

“Amends the Harassing and Obscene Communications Act. Creates the Cyberbullying Law. Provides that the offense of harassment through electronic communications also includes the use of electronic communication for making a harassing statement for the purpose of alarming, tormenting, or terrorizing a specific person on at least 2 separate occasions; or creating and maintaining an Internet website or webpage, which is accessible to one or more third parties for a period of at least 24 hours, and which contains harassing statements made for the purpose of alarming, tormenting, or terrorizing a specific person. Establishes penalties.” (Source)

While I agree that there needs to be some legal mechanism for prosecuting extreme cases like Lori Drew, this seems over-the-top.

There are many problems with a law like this. First, what the hell does “alarm, torment, or terrorize,” mean? Does it matter if the specific person should be alarmed?

What if a blogger decides to start a protest of a specific person’s goods or services in response to a wrongdoing and the protest is actually successful (not unheard of)? The individual on the receiving end of the protest will be  “alarmed and tormented.” Should that be illegal? Where does the First Amendment begin?

I know that the courts will delve into it, but that will take years.

In the mean time there will be many problems with selective enforcement, and I can’t imagine how many teenagers parents will have cops knocking on their door over stupid schoolyard stuff. From my observation, teenagers were put on this planet to “alarm, torment, and terrorize.”

In the meantime, parents, warn your kids. Don’t send threatening posts, emails, or text messages. Illegal or not, that’s a pretty good policy to follow.

Practice safe computing and be mindful of the messages you send. 

2 thoughts on “And Here Comes the Legislative Fallout

  1. I just have one thing to say. The first amendment has never protected all forms of speech. It has never protected threatening or terroristic threats. The problem as you have mentioned is what is the definition of these words as the law would have them to be. Another problem I have with everyone bringing up free speech is that the computer doesn’t only reach those in the US whom have freedom of speech. Many countries have computer access and do not have freedom of speech. Since their is no true jurisdiction of Computer crimes then what is to say you insult a company of another country and they don’t decided to track you down and arrest you. This women doesn’t live in Los Angeles, yet since the web-site she choose to use is based in Los Angeles then that is where the court has chosen to hold the case. This happens alot with companies. They will hold a case wheather it be criminal or civil in the City, State that the companies main hub is located. Personally I think the parents of Megan should sue the pants off Mrs Drew as well as any other person whom helped her out in her tormenting actions. What does a full grown woman have against a 13 year old child. Teens may have always been tormenting toward each other but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be punished for their bad behavior. Since parents no longer have that ability then the state will now have to take that position. They are the ones who have taken the responsibility of disciplining their children out of the parents hands.

  2. Kelly, I appreciate your thoughts and agree with quite a few of them. I’m suspecting that you didn’t see the first post I wrote on this subject: https://geekwhisperin.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/disgusting-behavior-the-fallout/

    That being said, I feel that you are somewhat mistaken about a few things. First, threatening another person is frequently protected by the First Amendment. It just depends on the threat (how about threatening a lawsuit? Not all threats are bad and not all threats are regarding crime. This law doesn’t seem to distinguish), and whether or not you make a gesture along with the threat of bodily harm (at least in New York, can’t speak about everywhere else). Second, communicating to invoke terror is different from communicating terroristic threats. Terror is fear, does that make scary news article illegal?

    I certainly don’t disagree that Lori Drew is a heinous person who deserves some very severe punishment for inexcusable crimes, but the backlash for her crimes could be too far reaching. As you pointed out, the Internet is a jungle of jurisdiction that no single country can wade through. All I know is that I live in the US, and here I have my freedom of speech. I will not give that up. The Internet should be a place that spreads that very freedom (I recognize that is not the case quite as often as it was a few years ago).

    While I will agree that the government has made disciplining one’s own child a difficult task, it is not insurmountable and I strongly feel that parents should not yearn to outsource that responsibility to local, state, or national government.

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