Should It Be Against The Law To Be A Jerk Online?

from the well,-it-may-become-law-soon dept

In large part due to the sad story of Megan Meier, we’re suddenly seeing a rush for politicians to rush through “anti-cyberbullying” that make cyberbullying illegal. It’s hard to see how such legislation will pass constitutional muster, but it seems to be more along the lines of previous legislation attempts to “protect the children” that will do little to actually protect children. Certainly, kids getting bullied is a problem — and cyberbullying can make it that much more difficult for kids who feel that they “can’t escape” as the bullying can follow them outside of school. But that doesn’t mean that tossing kids in jail for taunting other kids is the answer. At some point, people need to realize that there are people out there who are going to act like jerks — and throwing people in jail isn’t going to change that, though it likely will lead to frivolous lawsuits whenever some folks get upset about something someone else said to them.

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Comments on “Should It Be Against The Law To Be A Jerk Online?”

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JB says:

Federal Speech Control?

Really? A law that decrees what you can or cannot say to another person?

Was the Megan Meier story even about bullying? As I understand it, the adult neighbor was her online friend, not a bully. Then the woman broke off the friendship. There was no taunting, name-calling, severe repeated hostile behavior, or anthing else constituting bullying.

Here is the text of the federal law:

Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Does this even apply to the Megan Meier case? Heck, this looks like it applies more to my wife when she is mad at me and calls me names. If I can get it in writing I can send her to jail for a couple of years!

Steve says:

Re: Federal Speech Control?

“As I understand it, the adult neighbor was her online friend, not a bully. Then the woman broke off the friendship. There was no taunting, name-calling, severe repeated hostile behavior, or anthing else constituting bullying.”

Then you understand it wrong my friend. The woman was posing as a young boy named “Josh Evans” with a fake picture and the whole bit online who convince the young girl that he liked her only to have this woman turn around and tell the girl one day…
“It would be better if you weren’t around any more”
All of this because of a falling out the girl had with the woman’s daughter. Do try to have a BASIC understanding before wading in.

Tamara Denshire says:

Re: Re: Federal Speech Control?

“It would be better if you weren’t around any more” – Close, but what she actually said was “The world would be a much better place without you”, which is by far worse.

I don’t know about in the US, but in most countries encouraging someone to commit suicide is a crime. An adult encouraging a mildly mentally-disabled 13-year old to commit suicide is a total disgrace. Lori knew about her mental state, there’s no debating that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Federal Speech Control?

You know, if you want to get on a soapbox of indignation, the least you can do is get the facts straight…although there might be some disagreement about some of the details, there is no dispute that it was NOT Lori who made that comment, but one of the 2 teenagers who were in on it…and there’s no debating that for sure

maxhdrm says:

Re: Federal Speech Control?

First of All the Meier case facilitates the need for this law. Every law starts somewhere and is (when it comes to children) a direct result of a horrible crime i.e. megans law authored by John Walsh DUH

Second the adult neighbor was pretending to be a adolesent boy and her boyfriend. It was premeditated and malicious. This wasn’t a simple case of just calling someone names hell I went through that as a scrawny small kid. It was a deliberate attempt to tear Megan emotionally apart down to her core. This twisted individual wanted megan to commit suicide. That in the end was her goal hoping to hide under the cloud of “it was just innocent name calling”

No this has nothing to do with you or your wife it is suppose to be about protecting children and I can tell by other tones that those who don’t mention anything about kids don’t have any otherwise their perspective would be different.

I agree parents need more involvement like putting the computer in the living room or someone open to view but this case goes beyond cyberbullying it is just murder. There is a great chance it won’t pass the first time, most don’t because they are poorly authored. However, eventually anything that is in the interest of protecting children will.

There is no Anonymous Coward says:


This will get the entire prepubescent population of WoW thrown in juvy. Halo Online will fail!

I routinely threaten my friends with creative dismemberment if they irritate me. We all know it’s not a serious threat – but does this mean that I’m gonna get 14 years? I can’t believe that they’re actually trying to sanitise the net.

John (profile) says:

Re: We are...

But of course this is a distraction from real laws.
Which is easier for a congressman: pass laws “to protect the children” against online bullies or question the Bush administration about the ongoing deaths in Iraq, the rising oil prices, and the failing economy?

While we’re at it, let’s also pass laws to help the RIAA and the MIAA, since these are easier to do than end the war in Iraq or negotiate for lower oil prices.

friedAC says:

I thought we were a free country?

“Do you understand the basis of Communism? Passing stupid laws makes your lawmakers look stupid – not communist.”

No. It makes YOU look stupid.

Or us, rather. Since we “elect” our “representatives.”

But, since there is, aside from wounds, never any new blood in politics (that is, DIFFERENT blood), we only can vote for the same stupid idiots that made those incredibly stupid mistakes *last* time around, thus perpetuating the stupidity.

Alimas says:

Child Protection

The Meier case would have been entirely different if her online contact were another adolescent. Odds are, if he were real in the first place he’d have not turned on her.
Instead it was a sick full grown adult prying into a teen’s developing social life/skills and attempting to hijack her own teen’s abilities to properly organize her own, only to eventually take it further to take advantage of all the victim’s trust and admiration she won to turn it into an attack on the victim’s fragile psyche.
While teen-to-teen and adult-to-adult I’d say “such is life”, but an adult deliberately taking action on offspring like that in such a manner should be just as inexcusable as any other form of child abuse.
Any laws responding to this should focus on, specifically, how adult strangers should be interacting with minors. That is, in regards to willfully abusive activities. Rather than unenforceable, generally aimed wastes of grandstanding, such as this.

Xiera says:

Re: Child Protection

I actually have to agree with this as stated. While I normally scoff at the notion of emotional abuse (sorry to anyone that may offend), this situation could be equated to emotional statuatory rape. Clearly, this is a situation in which an adult who should know better is taking advantage of a child who does not know better.

I’m all for online anonymity, but, like other freedoms, the rights of one individual end where the rights of another begin — no one has the right to violate the rights of another. Such violations are all the more obscene when an adult violates the rights of a child.

MAtt says:

oh yeah?

If I ever see any of you on my internet again it’s you ass! Send your lunch money to my PayPal account or I’ll denial-of-service your ISP!

But seriously, isn’t this like on-line music sharing? People made mix tapes for decades; people have bullied for decades. Only now millions can see your mix tapes/read your libelous remarks with little to no effort on your part. The problem is distribution. So, Megan Meier’s bully’s ISP is the party we should blame.

But seriously, doesn’t this really mean the model for parenting, like the music industry, needs an overhaul? The music industry has to learn that we do not, in fact, owe anyone royalties if we fart in the key of a copyrighted song. And parents need to teach kids to suck it up or fight back. Life is not fair. We are made stronger by our experiences, negative or positive. By overprotecting we dilute our already watery social constitution.


Anonymous Coward says:

“Bullying” or “Cyber-bullying” isn’t a “problem”.

intimidation has existed since the first human set foot in a schoolyard. It’s the current atmosphere of safety hysteria on the part of parents that is endangering kids.

I do construction in a lot of middle-to-upper-middle-class neighborhoods and more often than not, I see kids that are locked up behind a picket fence or not allowed to wander more than 20 yards from their driveways before a parent or sibling is yelling for them to “get back here”. Schools aren’t allowed to let students in my town to go out in the playground even if there is so much as puddle on the tarmac.

Kids aren’t being allowed to discover their surroundings and when it comes to problem peers, they are encouraged to fink on a fellow student rather than try to work out the issue in a natural manner.

Rose M. Welch says:

On-Line Censorship & Subsequent Prosecution

Think about this: a boy intentionally uses his vocal words to flatter a girl into bed with him, only to dump her shortly thereafter. Maybe he even calls her on the telephone to tell her how great she looks, and how wonderful she is, and how much he loves her… Or texts her or sends her a note in the mail. After he dumps her, she commits suicide.

Are you going to push for the enactment of laws to tap all telephone calls, to moniter all text messages, to read all mail so you can document and prosecute the sadist who intentionally wrecked the mental health of that innocent American girl? And if you did, who would pay for all of that?

In the end, the Internet, along with almost all media, is a choice. I can choose to visit sites that are filled with hate, or I can not visit them. I can choose to watch television shows that glamorize violence, oversex women, and spout profantity, or I can choose to patronize channels that don’t show it. I can even (Gasp!) turn off my television set. I can read books and magazines that espouse hate and anger, or create generations of unrealistic body images… or I can choose to read other genres, or not read at all. I can choose to communicate with complete strangers, or I can choose to exercise the same caution that I do with people in the physical world and not communicate with complete strangers.

I do believe that sending hate-filled messages, no matter if they were sent via talk page, latter, IM, e-mail, text, or voicemail, to a specific person is harrasment, and should be prosecutable that way. But not at the expense of my free speech, especially not in a time when so many of our rights as Americans are so precariously balanced.

The Internet is not a separate, different medium that all of those mentioned above. It is the same. So if you can and should regulate one, then you can and should regulate all of them. It is a ‘slippery slope’ that people are sliding down in the name of safety.

CVPunk says:


“Are you going to push for the enactment of laws to tap all telephone calls, to moniter all text messages, to read all mail so you can document and prosecute the sadist who intentionally wrecked the mental health of that innocent American girl? And if you did, who would pay for all of that?”

What makes you think they don’t? I know domestic spying and warantless wire tapping hasn’t been in the news all that much but….

Anonymous Coward says:

What a bunch of idiots. People who whine about how the law used against the bitch who fucked up that poor little girl are the same people who would be cheering for the slaughter of the person if the exact same situation occurred, but it was a MALE who was pretending to be a young boy flirting with a thirteen year old girl.

If it was a MALE, that bitch would be on “to catch a predator”. But becuase she’s a female, they gloss over the whole fact that it was an adult pretending to be a child in order to flirt with the child and then cause severe emotional harm to them.

While the law in general may be a bit poorly worded, there is a difference between just being a cockface online and actually harassing people. We all know legitimate harassment. Nobody is going to rule in your favor because someone calls you a poopy-face. But if you can take someone to court for ruining your reputation (libel/slander) then there is already precident for controlling interactions between two people where one is severely impacting the other without cause.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re:

Nope, I disagree. I would feel the same if it were a man behind the computer. There are already harrasment laws in place. No new ones are neccesary.

I also think people are overlooking the fact that, the girl was already severely mentally unbalanced. If it had happened to a healthy girl, she might have gone to her room, slammed her door, and spent the next day or so crying. And nobody would have cared.

Another good point is that what if it was another child that had done it? Kids get mad at each other and say terrible things all the time. Why should that be illegal just because it’s over the Internet?

Clueby4 says:

Ban childern and those with mental issues for the net;problem solve

Screw that, put the responsibility were it belongs, on the parents or guardians.

I have no problem what Lori Drew did, while distasteful and somewhat tragic, to imply her intent was malicious based on the coverage is obtuse at best. The flappings that Ms. Drew knew of the neglected Megan’s mental state don’t add up. Given that if she had know about Megan’s lack of mental health, she would have just chalked up the issues Megan and her daughter were having to Megan’s need to where a helmet and left it at that.

So, to avoid this issue; lets have a nice simple law; The Internet Crouchfruit Leash Act. Parents and/or Guardians must monitor their child’s activity. Maybe have some for of waiver , with some form of deposit fee, that parents can get if they feel their children are responsible, deposit is there to ensure they mean it and to provide funding to those who attempt to violate the wavier. Throw is some text to cover those that pose a danger to themselves, for those with issues that are above age and you’re done

joe blow says:

The megan meier case is bogus. The mother was obviously fighting with the daughter. The daughter hanged herself. Instead of taking the blame, she blames Lori Drew.

Sure the Lori Drew thing probably made her feel bad. Kids have boyfriend and girlfriend problems all the time. They don’t kill themselves.

You know the mother must have been a real itch to the kid to make her commit suicide.

CreditMom (user link) says:

Cyber Bullying

I’m a mom of 3 boys. As much as it pains me to see any of my children bullied, unfortunately it is part of life – online or offline. Bullying is destructive and can damage your child’s self esteem but that’s where the parenting role comes into play. Parents need to get onto their kids’ computers and into their lives to get involved in what they are doing, who there friends are, who they speak to, etc. You need to talk to your children until you are so exhausted that you cannot speak any more and then speak some more. If your child will not allow you on his computer then he can’t have one, plain and simple. If he won’t allow you to meet his friends then he can’t go out with them. Periodically check in with your kids when they are out of the house. Make sure you know where they are and if you have doubts, drop by and visit. People need to be more involved with their children so that when bullying occurs (and it happens to the best of kids!) they can help their children work through it. I don’t see how a law on this is number one enforceable and number two even warranted.

Grae says:

Man, it seems like many can’t even get the facts right:
Lori Drew created the account to contact Megan to find out what she was saying about her (Lori’s) daughter.

Lori’s 18 year old female employee conducted the majority of the online relationship between “Josh Evans” and Megan Meier, including the ending of it.

The police have never found any evidence that “Josh Evans” told Megan that “the world would be better without you in it” or any derivative of such a statement.

Megan and her mother had a fight after the “breakup” because Megan refused to listen to her mother and get off the damn computer. She was found in critical condition from an attempted hanging 20 minutes later, was rushed to the hospital and died the next day.

The conclusion of the investigation found that Lori Drew had broken no laws.

In more recent attempts to criminalize Lori Drew, her former employee (who, again, was the one that acted as “Josh Evans”) was given immunity to testify against her. Something smells fishy here. If there’s a truly a crime commited (not necessarily saying there is) why is the legal adult who actually committed the acts in question being granted immunity? Looks like the police and feds would rather burn the witch everyone is screaming about than do their jobs.

This is hardly a clear cut case of a big bad adult out to vilely abuse a poor, innocent, beautiful snowflake of a child. It amazes me how quickly people forget that facts and law decide what is a crime in this country, not emotions and half-truths. Any law introduced out of an emotional appeal is guaranteed to be a bad one. Is it that hard to see this? Is it really?

Abdul Koroma says:

Indictment raises more legal questions???

I think we should not allow any sympathetic emotins towards the Meiers cloud our reasoning. Whilst no one will condone what Lori Drew did, we should not forget the fact that there are other worst acts of cyberbullying going unnoticed by law enforcement agencies. There will be several legal ramifications if this indictment should lead to a sentence of any sort as this article is pointing out: MySpace Suicide Indictment Raises Legal Questions (

poopsie says:

Maxhdrm, Megan's Law

Hey maxhdrm, not to be a dick, but your DUH! was misplaced. John Walsh didn’t have anything to do with Megan’s Law; his son was murdered back in 81 and he got the adam walsh act and all that code adam stuff. Megan’s law was a reaction to the rape/murder of Megan Kanka.

Anyway, factoids aside, I think that all this “won’t somebody think of the children” stuff is absolutely ridiculous and we as a country really need to toughen up again.
We’re raising a country full of nancys

Fed up says:

Pethetic drivil why do you even concider not having a Law?

Do you realize that buy not instating a law you make Preditors free to have a outlet to feed there hate in ways you cant even imagine. play Online MMo games for just one month and tell me there isnt a need to hold perants and guardians responsbible as well as the children and Adults who interact for hours on end with each other.

aninimity to hate is not what we should over look if we hold any hope for our society as a whole. The ones who conduct hate on the net are the ones who gave up on society because they cant handle real life in the first place. You don’t want to protect children from that type of mentality? the same children who will be in charge of your future as you get older and need them? how foolish humanity is to bicker over if we should or shouldn’t. you don’t see the bigger picture and for that I am so sad.

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