Monday, May 19, 2008

Why it's Dangerous to Pass a Law Banning Cyber Harassment

Recently Megan Meier, a disturbed girl in Missouri, killed herself after a situation of 'cyber bullying' that occurred in MySpace.

I do have a profile in MySpace, but I do not believe that children should be allowed to have one. Overall, children are immature (no matter how mature they may seem to be at times) and they are not well-equipped to deal with life on such a large scale.

A friend of mine was very concerned about his 12 year old daughter spending time on MySpace. One day when she had spent some time on MySpace, he went in afterwards and found some things that shocked and surprised him. He came to me about the situation, and asked me to tell him how to set up a fake account to monitor her (as her profile was closed to adults). He had heard that sexual predators did this, and he wanted to prove to her that it was a dangerous environment.

So I told my friend how to set up the account. He posed as a boy only a couple of years older, and was extremely careful about what he said: In fact, he said very little. But what he sent to her were the standard surveys that kids like to send each other asking innocent questions (such as "what's your favorite food?") along with not-so-innocent ones (such as "are your parents still married?" and "where do you sleep?")

Over a matter of months, she inadvertently revealed that she was 12, that she had her own room without a telephone in it, that she was often at home by herself, that her parents were divorced, who was in her family unit, what school she went to, and what her first name was. She also had pictures of herself posted. At one point, another child revealed her last name in a public post.

Eventually, when he had enough information to give him a stroke, all hell broke loose and she was confronted by the evidence. As a result, she has behaved more decorously on the internet, but due to her mom's intervention, she has not removed her profile altogether.

Obviously MySpace presents a great deal of dangers to children.

Megan Meier is a classic case of how things can go wrong without proper parenting and supervision. If her parents had been on top of the situation, they would have known what was going on before it was too late.

Most of you know what happened.

Apparently Megan had a friend who quickly became an enemy. This friend (in conjunction with another friend and possibly her mother) created a MySpace account posing as a boy. She flirted with Megan and became her 'cyber boyfriend'. After a couple months of that, she turned on Megan and began harassing her and encouraging other friends to do so, too.

Megan hung herself one day.

Although my heart goes out to her parents, and the situation is indeed tragic and the result of malicious intent, it is ultimately Megan who made the decision to kill herself when other children in similar circumstances have not made such a choice.

Megan's parents admitted that she was mentally ill. And, it is also obvious that they weren't monitoring her properly.

However, suddenly free speech is being blamed for Megan's suicide.

I am very concerned.

I will grant you that the internet makes free speech a little more than a simple conversation at the drug store: On the internet you can be nameless and faceless. Many of us are very grateful for that, as we would not be able to speak frankly on a wide variety of issues without that protection. We have become a politically correct nation, where your beliefs and views can damn you utterly, even though we technically prize free speech.

But now, Missouri lawmakers have passed a law in a knee-jerk reaction to Megan's suicide. It's an anti-cyber harassment law, which sounds good on paper and looks good at election time. But how do you define harassment?

And, is it necessary?

After all, most of us hardier and older adults grew up before it was politically incorrect to make fun of fat kids, nerds, unpopular kids, and handicapped kids. Those of us who can spell are most likely the ones that were a target for bullying and teasing at one time or another.

*I* certainly was!

But we cried about it, we ranted about it, we were angry about it, and we learned to deal with it. We are now taking away that possibility from our young people, who are bound to face such things at some point in life. Do we really want to raise a nation of pansies who are ill-equipped to live in the Big World?

And, on a bigger scale, do we really wish to begin to make rules about what can be said and should not be said on the internet?

There is an additional legal concern rising from this case, which is discussed here. The author points out that MySpace's prosecution of the bullying mom in Missouri could also put most of us in jail if it's succesful.

This case bears watching. And unlike the lawmakers in Missouri, we need to think this over very carefully as any decisions made will affect each of us on a much larger scale than these small-minded legislators and prosecutors can imagine.


Edge said...

Used to be if you were an irresponsible parent the authorities would come after you. How is it that someone can neglect what is going on with their kid and suddenly it's someone else's fault???

Crappy parenting is what I call it. And this reinforces my idea for child licensing. You should have to take parenting classes to have kids, if you don't, you don't get to count them on your taxes.


Saur♥Kraut said...

Jef, that is exactly what I have said for years!

Bee Repartee said...

and they are not well-equipped to deal with life on such a large scale.

Don't you mean well-equipped to deal with all the smut and perverts on such a large scale? ;)

I agree with Jef, it's parenting and monitoring your kids. We're not speaking of good parenting, as you've said so eloquently. It's the only parenting that will keep our young people safe.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Bee, undoubtedly you're correct. But 'life on a large scale' DOES involve smut and perverts, I'm sorry to say.

NOW: There is no doubt that smut and perverts are more prolific on the net than in our average neighborhoods, but a well-equipped (and monitored) child can surf the internet without any significantly negative impact.

Additionally, there are some services (such as AOL) which allow parents to lock out questionable content entirely if the parent is not able to monitor the kid(s) adequately.

Fred said...

I see the results of lousy parenting on a daily basis. If only I could tell you...

Recently, high school students got in a fight at Universal Studios during their grad night.

Here's one parent's response: "We really need to figure out what has gone wrong," she said. "It sounds like the school wasn't protecting our kids."'re child was the problem, not the school. Take ownership! Discipline your child!

We keep the computer in the common area so that we know exactly what's going on. And, we share articles with our daughters about the dangers of on-line conversations.

Wheezer said...

If this had been between two adults I would agree with you 100%.
But, the adult woman involved in this sought out an underage child. Had she done the same thing on the street, she would have been arrested on the spot. Not only did she seek this child out, but she also engaged in vague sexual type chat with this underage child. Again had she done this in person we wouldn't even be talking about this, b/c she would have been locked up. The parents did monitor the child. The child was and had been getting help for her low self-esteem and for her depression. She had also never ever attempted to take her life in the past as has been reported. That is a rumor. Both parents had the MYSpace password. These parents were doing what we require of parents. Did they make some mistakes? Sure. What parent hasn't. So do we blame every parent when something bad happens to their child. In some cases yes, the blame lies with the parents, but let's face it in the majority of cases it is not the parents. It is those that made a choice to prey on a minor child. Do I think Lori Drew meant for this child to commit suicide? No. But, her actions led to a terrible consequence, and for that she should have to pay some kind of price.

The Lazy Iguana said...

So the girl was having mental issues. And another adult who probably knew this (they were neighbors and her kid knew Megan and kids talk) took specific action to exploit that.

And Megan's parents were the irresponsible ones?


Kids are sneaky. And they probably can figure out ways around whatever firewalls you set up. For example, lets say you have AOL and a DSL or cable modem connection. Did you know that your kid does not have to log into AOL? The DSL or cable modem connection has an internet account from the phone or cable company. This is how I get on the internet. Turn on the computer, connect to the wireless router, open the internet browser. No AOL involved. And even if I had it I would not need it.

Or they can connect to the neighbors unencrypted router. Or they can ask their friend next door for their router password and connect there.

AOL parental monitoring is only good if you think AOL is the only way to get on the internet.

How about that cell phone? You know, the I-Phone you got for your kid? Well guess what - it has the internet. My phone has an unlimited data plan. So much for keeping the computer in a common area!

So you say no I-Phone. OK fair enough. But what about all the other things (like the i-pod touch) that have built in wi-fi? Go to Denny's or anyplace else with free wi-fi and there you go. The internet.

And so on.

Your kid may also have more than one myspace account. One they let you find out about and a secret one they set up under an assumed identity.

Now I am not saying that there needs to be cyber harassment laws. But since they are on the way, remember that it would still need to be proven in court that your intent was to harass someone. I think these cases will be tough to prove, and the DA will only prosecute special cases. Like Megan's case.

AQ said...

Now you're talking, Lazy! Kids need to be taught about the dangers, and monitored as much as possible. But kids CAN and DO get around their parents' safety features.

Megan's case was a special case - no doubt about that! It makes me crazy when laws are passed for the general public because idiots take advantage of situations and do things to hurt other people. You can't make a blanket law to cover all possible internet bullying without infringing on freedom of speech.

daveawayfromhome said...

This case is making me think about the case with the kid who got popped with the fly ball and now his parents are suing the bat manufacturer.
Folks, bad shit happens. Certainly if there's been malice involved, investigations should be made. But sometimes, things get out of control, and the worst case scenario happens. It's not someone's fault, though their actions may have helped lead to it. In the end, a series of actions led up to Megan's decision to hang herself.

Tragic? Absolutely.
A reason for prosecution? Maybe (Wheezer's got an excellent point).
A reason to restrict speech? NO.

Dangerous precident. So dangerous that one begins to wonder if the Bush Administration's abuse of civil rights are less disease than they are a symptom of something bigger going on.

Mr. Grey Ghost said...

My understanding of Megan Meier is that she was a young girl who suffered from huge self-esteem issues and the ringleader (that cruel mom) played on this to such an evil and nasty extent that it drove her to commit suicide. She's an adult and Megan was a child, the mom deserves at least 15 years for cyberbullying and causing the emotional distress that led Megan to kill herself.

Scott said...

Very interesting post. Brings up a tonne of issues doesn't it? Well for me, here is what I see as being the big one.

Bullying in general. Wether online or in person it represents a serious breach of an individuals rights. The fact that the harassment would happen online is no different than if someone is being harassed in 'real life'. There are laws out there already that protect people from harassment. Why not apply these same laws to the internet without making up a whole new set of laws that put so much creedence in the fact that it is so called cyber bullying?

Kathleen said...

My brain hurts! Saur, you are out doing yourself with these posts. I tend to go with lazy and aq on this one.

End of the day, a child is dead and a family has been thrust into a lifetime of pain and suffering. The abuser is beyond vile. I want her of receive a little justice.