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May 15, 2009

Daily Commentary – Friday, May 15th, 2009 – Is Cyberbullying is Free Speech? The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Act

Posted in: Child Welfare,Civil Rights,Crime,Internet,Scared Monkeys Radio

  • Do free speech rights protect “cyberbullying?”

icon for podpress  Daily Commentary – Friday, May 15th, 2009 – What is Free Speech? [1:23m]:  | Download

Make no mistake about it, there is a need to crack down on cyberbullying; however, let’s just make sure we go about it in the right manner and dot our “i’s” and cross our “t’s.” Hate is not free speech; however, a differing opinion is not hate.
Is the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Act  a “Censorship Act”? The bill introduced by CA Rep. Linda Sanchez is designed to prevent cyberbullying and making it punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison.


Megan Meier

The question at hand is free speech vs. censorship. Is harassment and making threats on the internet or over other electronic devices cyberbullying? One would say that as always it depends on the intent. Cyberbullying should never be allowed as seen in the case of 13 year old Megan Meier who ultimately committed suicide after being cyberbullied by Josh Evans, who was in reality 49 year old Lori Drew.
Lori Drew is accused of setting up a false account on MySpace under the name of Josh Evans to knowingly and willfully harass 13 year old Megan Meier. The result of Drew’s alleged actions was that Megan Meier hung herself in her room after receiving such messages like “the world would be a better place without her”. Actually, the world would be a better place without people who would commit such senseless acts against children.
Lori Drew was eventually indicted for her role in the on-line hoax and suicide of Megan Meier; however, it became obvious that the laws had not caught up to the technology. The issue with what happened in the trail that followed is it became obvious that justice was not served.
However, I can understand to a point the “free speech” argument as with the case of most laws made, people will pervert them from what their initial intension was meant to be. The Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act is supposed to do one thing … protect people from sick, twisted cowards who hide behind the the cloak of the intenet to make threats against people. That’s rather straight forward as many have either received threats posted on the internet or in email. The intent of these practices by such “keyboard cowards” is to intimidate.

How will a cyberbulling law be perverted by the misguided and hateful?  One must be very careful how to define new, ground breaking law so not to call into the law of unintended consequences. The problem with some with the law is the wording, which is vague at best.
Even Sanchez’s attempt to define the term “cyberbullying” poses problems, said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.
“The bill defines it as ‘using electronic means to support severe, repeated and hostile behavior,’ but what does ‘severe, hostile and repeated behavior’ mean?” he asked.
“I’ve written articles opposing the bill that have appeared online. That’s electronic and — because I’ve written a few of them — repeated. I was also severe and hostile in my criticisms. Under her law, I can now go to jail.”
So how could a law which has the best of intentions to protect people from “cyber-cowards” so that nothing ever happens like what took place with Megan Meier possibly be a bad thing? When foolish people use such an act against someone who thinks that a differing opinion on any issue, especially political, is deemed “severe, repeated and hostile behavior”. Can meaness be legislated? I have long said that the government cannot legislate ignorance, yet they try all the time.
And so could many political commentators and Web bloggers who earn their keep by being confrontational and inflammatory. A TV host like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who’s been openly and repeatedly hostile to former Vice President Dick Cheney on his Web site, would not be safe from prosecution, the analysts say.
Even advocates of child safety on the Internet say the bill is impractical, at best.
I would ask one important question with regards to this cyberbullying act. The point of such legislation was to protect minors on the internet like 13 year old Megan Meier. No where in the entire piece of legislation is the word “minor” used.
Please Congress … read the bill, do your homework and get this one right for the children!

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