December 06, 2007 |
Bullying is nothing new; it's probably been around as long as humans have been around, and is generally viewed with a “kids will be kids” mentality, except in more extreme cases. And it logically followed that as teenagers made their way onto social networks like MySpace and Facebook , the bullying behaviors would follow.
What most people probably wouldn't have expected was what happened to Megan Meier, in which the mother of a former friend created a MySpace profile for a fictional teenaged boy, befriended Megan, and then dumped her, sending Megan, who was known to be on medication for ADHD and depression, to commit suicide.
Investigators determined that there was no law on the books to prosecute the mother involved, but the Internet being what it is, bloggers and other social network citizens dug up the perpetrator's identity, address, and place of business. Emails were sent to companies who did business with her company. Identifying information was posted online. Police reports lodged by the woman claimed people threw objects through her windows, yelled epithets when driving by the house, and other harassment.
The town that both families lived in passed legislation to prevent the type of cyberbullying that led to Megan's suicide, and the story probably might have ended there.
Until, that is, a blog popped up called “Megan Had It Coming” on Blogger. The author of the blog claims to be the adult involved with the bullying of Megan, Lori Drew, and has solicited thousands of comments with an entry blaming the incident on Megan herself, who the author claims bullied others and had parents who refused to acknowledge that their daughter was a bully herself.
Now, if you've made it through the whole back story, thanks for sticking with me, because it gets even better. When contacted by FOXNews, Blogger said they have received no complaint from Lori Drew that the blog is a hoax, but her lawyer has said that it is, and whoever posted the blog entries could be prosecuted by the same laws that were passed after Megan's death.
Wrap your head around that one. Laws were passed to prevent cyberbullying because an adult went after a teen. Now the lawyer for that same adult is threatening prosecution for alleged harassment of that adult.
We should have known it couldn't last forever; from investigations into virtual crime to going after the gambling in Second Life, governments are increasingly attempting to regulate what was the self-policing Web. The real question is whether or not the increasing legislation that deals with online interactions can really address subtleties of the Internet.
The Megan Meier story highlights exactly those subtleties. Is bullying between teens in school a crime, or is it handled within the confines of the school? There's a reason we don't legislate every tiny interaction between teens and adults offline, so it would make sense to follow the same logic. There is a difference between an adult using the Internet to harass a child who has a diagnosed mental illness and a hoax blog, isn't there? Apparently, the law doesn't distinguish between the two. Under cyberbullying legislation, could bloggers such as Fake Steve Jobs be prosecuted? What criteria determine the difference between parody, commentary, and harassment?
Technology develops at a fast and furious rate, and legislation generally moves at a crawl. Are we entirely sure that legislation can keep up?