Missouri Continues Arresting Cyberbullies: Don't Be An Online Jerk In Missouri

from the free-speech? dept

As tends to happen, it appears that Missouri has decided to overcompensate for the mess with the whole Lori Drew/Megan Meier tragedy. After realizing that Lori Drew hadn’t committed any actual crime, Missouri passed a new law making it a potential felony for being a jerk online. And, of course, with that new law in place, Missouri prosecutors have wasted little time in filing charges against all sorts of people. The latest involves the arrest of a teenager for creating a mean website about another student. Now, I’m not condoning the behavior of this student, which does seem despicable — but arresting the kid seems really extreme. Aren’t there less draconian methods for dealing with this sort of thing? Kids can be mean and, yes, they do stupid things at times — but arresting kids every time they’re a jerk online is going to lead to a pretty busy judicial system.

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Comments on “Missouri Continues Arresting Cyberbullies: Don't Be An Online Jerk In Missouri”

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R. Miles (profile) says:

Welcome to the United States of America...

… where in Missouri, your rights to Free Speech will land you a stint in the slammer.

I’m absolutely appalled such a law was passed in the first place, but considering this all stemmed from a child, neglected by society, committing suicide, it’s hard to dismiss the emotional attachment at its passing.

Even still, it sickens me people are defending this nation through active service only to see it’s all for nothing when basic rights are stripped without just cause.

Too bad the military oath includes the words “both foreign and domestic” as I can see the latter becoming a problem when more laws such as this pass.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I do not agree with laws get kids arrested for being kids in this particular case there was some desire to see the victim dead. It may not have amounted to a death threat but there is a point at which it is reasonable to investigate physical threats. Being a jerk and threatening physical harm are not the same thing, how is the victim to know how real any threats are or are not?

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“But we already have harassment laws to protect from death threats or threats of harm. Why do we need a new one?”

Because it’s threats ON THE INTERNET!!!

Seriously, the biggest improvement we could make would be to recuse anyone from making a tech-related decision if they’re over thirtyfiveish (and yeah, that would include me. I’ll take the hit for my peers.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Where did I say we needed a new law? I said that I do not agree with it (kids getting arrested). I’m saying that the site seemed to include language that could (by someone like the victim) be interpreted as a threat and that threats are different than say calling Chronno as dumbass. Calling you a dumbasss is fine, threating you with death on the other hand is not okay. I never said that wishing to see Chronno dead was a threat, just that you might see it that way and that you might like it if someone looked into how real that threat may be.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re:

“What was said on the site was not a death threat and sounds just like standard bullying.”

Maybe. However, why do we accept “standard bullying”? Such behavior among adults leads to assault and harassment charges. So, why are people so willing to let children get by with a “kids will be kids” attitude.

No, for the record, I do think the arrest was probably extreme, though we don’t know if there was prior history or other instances that led them to that decision. However, SOME kind of discipline for bullying, both on and off the Internet, is definitely necessary. What seems like harmless fun to a few can scar others for many years to come.

I once knew over 20 different routes to walk 3/4 of a mile home, so that one particular group of kids was less likely to corner me. It was not fun, or adventurous. It was terrifying, and when they did find me, they always made up for their frustration on the other days. Never enough to draw blood, but plenty of threats and fearful anticipation. When you’re twelve, you don’t have the capacity to filter and ignore it when someone shoves a lit firecracker in the mouth of a box turtle, laughs when it blows apart, and threatens to do the same to you.

Know what the principal said? It was “normal bullying.” Didn’t help that a couple of the kids hung out with his son. He said there was nothing he could do “off school grounds and outside school hours.” Until we got a new vice principal who understood how damaging such things can be. After he showed up, most of those students were expelled or neutralized by threat of discipline within a few weeks. It doesn’t take arrests, but enough with the “normal bullying” bullshit. There’s no such thing.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I guess I should qualify this before someone else does. I am not comparing the extreme example of my junior high years to a harassing Web site. I do think this law, as it is currently used, is pretty ridiculous and extreme. What I am railing against is this mentality that bullying is “normal” and should just be accepted. Yes, it happens regularly. No, that does not mean we should ignore it. As soon as we start saying that a certain degree of bullying is “normal,” where do we draw the line? It becomes subjective. No, these bullies did not physically hurt me except for a couple times (thought physical restraint was the norm), but the psychological impact of never feeling safe created problems that plagued for a long time into adulthood.

As soon as you allow this subjective level of normal, you open the door to jackasses like my former principal.

So, to summarize, I am concerned with the “standard bullying” language and attitude. I am NOT arguing for this law. I am arguing that school-level discipline is necessary, and should be more active in many cases. I also think that the law should not be afraid to use existing laws (harassment, etc) where applicable. Why my parents did not go to the police after the principal’s reaction, I don’t know. I certainly would for my own children.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’d like to point out that millions of women are stalked and harassed every day, with everything disturbing phone calls to dead animal mail, and the police don’t generally have the time or inclination to pursue those claims. They’re told to get a restraining order (if they can) and that the police can’t really help until something actually happens. In the real world, your rights are only considered in the breach thereof. So, anyway, my point is that if these people can’t get relief for harassment, why should this guy? A website is so much less bothersome than calls, letters, or dead animals. It seems like a waste of resources that were only sanctioned because the harassment happened ‘on the Internet’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d like to point out that millions of women are stalked and harassed every day, with everything disturbing phone calls to dead animal mail, and the police don’t generally have the time or inclination to pursue those claims. They’re told to get a restraining order (if they can) and that the police can’t really help until something actually happens.

Men too, and they get even less help from the authorities.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Blame the Economy!

“the problem with that is “being a Jerk” is relative”

Uh, no, the problem is that too many Americans today are pantywaist emotional midgets that either don’t have the spine to realize their self worth or else prefer to use the victim role for personal gain (I’m looking at YOU, Sharpton).

Attention citizens of what will soon become Helmerica: if you don’t understand your own worth independent of other people’s opinions, then you truly aren’t worth anything at all and will be so judged shortly….

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

The article made loose references to other people brought up on charges under the anti-bullying law. The one that stood out in the middle of the pack really illustrates what is festering at the core of this law:

* A man protesting the development of a proposed resort was charged with sending a threatening e-mail to city hall staff.

Now I have to research this case because no further details were provided in the article.

In that case, why were charges brought up at all if there were was no tangible case for assault?

I assume the worker in city hall who was targeted was “of age”. If so, are we now to assume that hurting *anyone’s feelings is now punishable as a felony in MO?

Teenagers definitely are more at risk of being victimized by bullying as most have not fully individualized, and seem to rely heavily on the input from others to sustain their self-image. Considering this, a part of me feels maybe teenagers need some protection from bullying. However, the more logical part of me screams that this is, of course, “immature” behavior that should not be reinforced, much less reinforced by the government.

Now we have (presumably) an adult government employee being protected by an anti-bullying law that probably reinforces immature behavior. To what end?

This law is a case where the “ends” should have been better considered before ever affecting a “means”.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: jursidiction nightmare

Ha, I like the way you think. Unfortunately, it would almost certainly be the state you were physically present in when the “crime” was committed. However, I bet they would try to make a very strong argument to have you extradited to Missouri if you created a website about a Missouri citizen and he/she wanted to press charges…

Julian says:

Kids these days

Honestly I don’t agree with this law but something needs to be done because I see a lot of disrespect on the Internet I don’t care how much someone doesn’t like someone it’s just bitch move to do it on the Internet if you have a problem with them settle it like a human being. I don’t like where this country is going as far as respect because I go to
a military academy and I see people talking when we are saluting the flag as it’s being raised I just wish it was back the way things used to be where you respect people and this country. I recently joined the military and went through my basic
training I get so much disrespect from people and they say that I’m going to die in Afghanistan

Lucretious (profile) says:

Re: Kids these days

If “something needs to be done”, what would you suggest that “something” be? How would you enforce it? Where is line the line drawn between dangerous harassment and simply being an asshole? As it is now, “Hate Crimes” are so vague as to who it applies to and when, do you really think something that falls into such a grey area like “cyberbullying” will be used in an even-handed manner?

Wouldn’t it simply be easier to accept that there are idiots in the world and leave the law to prosecute only those individuals who show direct physical threat to another?

It disturbs me that people are so quick to give up their freedom of speech because their anger is temporarily inflamed by a single incident.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Kids these days

The way what used to be? People have been desecrating flags as long as we’ve had one. I am a military wife, living in a military town, (if you joined the army, you’re probably only a few miles from me right now) and we all know and accept that we are working to maintain the freedoms that America guarantees, including the right to free speech that disagrees with YOU. If you can’t reconcile that idea with the idea you have of America, your probably need to seek a different career.

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