Franklin James Cook

Cyberlaws Are Coming into Play around Internet Safety

In Policy, Prevention on December 22, 2008 at 2:58 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — Reporter Joel Currier writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Dec. 17., 2008, that prosecutions are beginning to be filed using an updated Missouri law addressing “threats or communication that causes emotional distress, including electronic messaging on computers, text messaging and e-mail.”

A 21-year-old St. Charles woman … is charged with misdemeanor harassment. She is accused of sending harassing text messages to [a] girl and letting friends use her cell phone to leave threatening voice messages. Her case is one of at least seven involving adults in the St. Louis area filed since Missouri’s new cyber-bullying law took effect Aug. 28.

Some are calling the Missouri legislation “Megan’s Law,” in memory of Megan Meier, who died by suicide in October 2006 after being taunted on MySpace.

The National Conference of State Legislatures lists summaries of state laws in the United States related to cyberbullying or cyber-harrassment* that have been enacted. According to the Post-Dispatch report,

Some experts say that even though cyber-bullying laws establish a framework for punishing those who use the Internet to harass others, those laws probably do little to deter such behavior. Others say it will take a combination of the law, parental involvement and raising awareness to curb cyber-bullying.

“The laws will make a difference once people understand that there are laws and once
prosecutors start using them,” [said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety]. “We need to teach (people) that what you do online matters as much as what you do in real life, because the Internet is real life now.”

SPNAC readers can listen to a recent discussion among experts on cybersafety for children, “Protecting Kids in the Digital Age,” a roundtable from the 2008 Tech Policy Summit.

*[Editor’s note: Because a distinction is not always clearly drawn in news coverage about the issue, it is important to say something about definitions and language. SPNAC agrees with those who distinguish adult behavior (cyber-harrassment or cyberstalking) from children’s behavior (cyberbullying), as do the folks at stopcyberbullying.org:]

“Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/NetSafetyLaws .]

[Related SPNAC post: “Verdict Shows Parents, Internet Should Both Protect Kids“]

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