Congressional Rep Wants To Put Internet Trolls In Jail

from the well,-that's-an-idea dept

Last year, the lawsuit against Lori Drew got plenty of attention. It involved the sad story of a girl, Megan Meier, who ended up killing herself after a "friend" she met on MySpace ended their friendship in a rather rude fashion. It later turned out that the "friend" wasn't a real person, but a made up individual, created by a former friend of the girl, that girl's mother (Lori) and an employee of Lori created the person (they claim) as a way of finding out what Meghan was saying about Lori's daughter. The whole story is quite sad, obviously, and suggests incredibly poor judgment on Lori's part. However, was it illegal? The initial analysis was not at all. However, prosecutors then twisted computer hacking laws to charge her, and she was eventually found guilty of misdemeanor computer hacking for creating a fake person on MySpace. This ruling was troubling for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it's now quite easy to make anyone a criminal via terms of service. Also, the fact that it actually is likely to put more kids at risk.

That particular case was distorted by a few issues, involving the fact that Lori was an adult while Meghan was a child. If the MySpace friend "Josh" had been a real teen, would the same outrage have happened? I had a friend in high school kill himself after his girlfriend dumped him. Should she have been charged with a crime?

However, with emotional cases, come bad legal precedents and bad laws. Missouri (where this happened) already rushed through an "online harassment" law, and now it looks like we may get the federal equivalent. Rep. Linda Sanchez has introduced a cyberbullying law (named after Meier) that could put people in jail for up to two years for online communications "with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person... to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior."

Yes, this effectively makes online trolling a crime. It's difficult to see how this gets past even the most basic First Amendment review, but that won't stop politicians from grandstanding over it.

Filed Under: cyberbullying, felony, lori drew, megan meier, trolls


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  1. icon
    chris (profile), 6 May 2009 @ 11:03am

    Re:

    Have we lost our humanity?
    absolutely.

    the internet destroyed our humanity years ago.

    want proof? browse 4chan.org for ten minutes. the internet isn't safe for decent people. they would be better off doing something... anything... else.

    Perhaps the ultimate laws that charged Lori were "twisted", but justice was done in the end.

    no, it wasn't. megan is dead because her parents didn't teach her how to protect herself online. internet mob justice would have seen to it that lori drew's life was ruined without any help from the law. and if that failed there is always the great american past time: the civil suit.

    using the law in this way is reprehensible, not because it is wrong, but because it is an absolute waste of time and resources. lori drew got busted, and these laws might stop a couple of people in the beginning, but then the real trouble will start.

    The ultimate problem is that we don't have enough laws (very clearly defined) regulating the internet. If someone wants to harass someone online they should have the guts to say who they are, and the person being harassed should be able to obtain their information to defend themselves.

    no, the ultimate problem is that people are painfully ignorant about just how dangerous the internet is. it's way more dangerous than the real world and it's way harder to protect yourself. no amount of laws will prevent that. idiots like megan's parents need to take some responsibility for themselves and their children.

    if someone the sufficient skill and motivation wants you to suffer, you WILL suffer. there is no force on earth that can prevent that. all the law will do produce unintended consequences.

    In any event, we are lacking some serious laws online. People can disparage others online, post false information or shocking pictures and hide behind anonymity while taking no responsibility for the ultimate outcome to someone's reputation - or in this case emotional distress which led to suicide.

    you have no idea how the internet works or how the people that use it operate, do you? censorship and regulation will always be circumvented. always. so go ahead and endorse a bunch of laws, but they will do you no good.

    we passed a bunch of laws against spam, how's that working out for you? all it did was drive the spammers further underground, making it even harder for service providers to fight them. good job congress!

    the chinese can't contain the internet and they have the resources and motivation to do so, what makes you think the federal government has any chance of success?

    laws against bullying will not work. they will waste taxpayer funds and deliver absolutely no results other than inconveniences to legitimate users, and maybe a re-election.

    i guarantee you the only "bullies" caught and punished with this law will be some grandmothers and a couple of 10 year olds who are victims of unintended consequences.

    We have a long way to go in regulating people's privacy and conduct online, but the Cyberbullying Law is certainly a start.

    regulating anything on the internet is physically impossible. it simply cannot be done.

    for every step that you take and every measure that you implement if it doesn't fail on it's own, there WILL be a workaround within minutes. that is a mathematical certainty.

    the government can't even protect it's own secrets from the chinese, what on earth makes you think they can protect you or your children from bullies?

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