If Online Harassment Is Harassment... Why Does It Need A Special Law?

from the questions-without-answers dept

There was a tragic story a few weeks ago that I'm sure many of you read about. It involved a teenager who committed suicide after a "boy" she had become friendly with over MySpace stopped talking to her and said he had heard bad things about her. It later came out that the "boy" never existed -- and was actually a former friend in the neighborhood and the friend's mother effectively toying with the girl. There wasn't much to say about the tragedy, though I was wondering how long it would take for people to start blaming online communities or MySpace for such things. That hasn't happened yet, but the town where this happened has now passed a law banning online harassment, with the mayor saying: "After all, harassment is harassment, regardless of the mechanism or tool." That may be true -- but if it is, why isn't anyone asking why there needs to be a separate law for online harassment, if it's already considered harassment? Yes, the situation is tragic, but why the focus on online harassment rather than harassment in general?

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  1. identicon
    Oliver Wendell Jones, 28 Nov 2007 @ 2:59pm

    Two Points

    1) I feel that there needs to be a minimum waiting period for creating laws following a tragedy of any sort - big or small. You can't make good laws in a short period of time. There needs to be time enough for constitutional review, public feedback, etc. before it gets signed into law. Lawmakers who respond rapidly like this are just trying to earn brownie points with their constituents by claiming "look how fast I took care of this!"

    2) There is a difference between "outlawing online harassment" and "legally defining harassment to include online harassment" and if the law simply adds online harassment, then it's probably not bad - if it makes it a whole new crime then hopefully it's not like so many other instances where they've taken something that's been illegal for years and slapped "internet/online" onto it added new fines that are more up-to-date, so that if you commit the offline version of the crime you pay a $50 fine but if it's done online with the new law in place, it's suddenly a $50,000 fine.

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