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.