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. identicon
    unknown, 5 Apr 2010 @ 3:40pm

    Let's Sum It Up.

    Trolls are mentally ill people. They are incapable of functioning inside
    normal societal parameters, so consequently, they have no friends or
    familial contacts. The absence of friends and family forces the troll to
    rely on other mechanisms for recognition and human contact. The most common
    tactics for trolls are making accusations which can't be disproved,
    spoofing, or deliberately misinterpreting or misrepresenting a legit group
    participant's point of view. (although it should be noted that trolls have a
    vast knowledge of harassment techniques and have been known to devote huge
    quantities of time to their obsessions). If you find yourself targeted by a
    troll, you can be quite sure that you're not the first one. Other newsgroup
    visitors will recognize these baseless accusations and treat them
    accordingly. Trolls often resort to name calling and making disparaging
    remarks about you in their signatures. While this behavior can be irritating
    to the victim of a troll, it's actually a clear indication of the level of
    intimidation that you inflict on the troll. You should also know that the
    other newsgroup visitors are not stupid. They know that trolls are here to
    acquire some sense of belonging, and their efforts are solely dedicated to
    that end. You should feel under no obligation to defend yourself. Even
    newsgroup visitors of modest mental capacities will recognize the troll for
    what he/she/it is in time. Longtime visitors who are serious participants
    will have killfiled the troll long ago, and new visitors will quickly tire
    of the troll's antics. To be clear, trolls are completely and utterly
    harmless. They hold no real sway over the newsgroup's opinion of you. Treat
    them the same way you would an irritating sound.

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