Missouri Begins Cyberbullying Prosecutions

Following the 2006 suicide of Megan Meier over a MySpace hoax, Missouri revised the the state's already existing harassment law to include telephone and electronic communication, effectively outlawing cyberbullying. And now they are starting to prosecute violators of that law.

The law has only been in effect for three months, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, seven individuals have been charged in cyberbullying cases.'
  • Nicole Williams, 21, is charged with misdemeanor harassment, accused of sending harassing text messages to a 16-year-old girl and letting friends use her cell phone to leave threatening voice messages, including threats of rape. The heart of the disagreement? Jealousy over a boy.
  • In separate cases, two St. Louis men were charged in November of sending numerous harassing text messages to their ex-girlfriends.
  • A man protesting a proposed resort was accused in September of sending a threatening e-mail to Wildwood City Hall.
  • A 28-year-old woman was accused in September of sending harassing text messages to her ex-husband's girlfriend.
  • A 19-year-old Belleville man sent at least 17 text messages to his mother's husband, who lives in Troy, Mo.
  • A 17-year-old was charged in October with writing death threats in text messages to a classmate in another case involving jealousy, over a girl.
While some have likened the law to criminalizing "behavior that otherwise wouldn't be illegal except for the medium," akin to the passing of notes in a classroom, we would disagree. After all, most of the cases above involve adults, some involving serious threats. And even in more minor cases, it should be remembered that things put on the Internet, unlike a classroom note, stay there forever, unless explicitly removed.

You'll recall that Lori Drew, the adult involved in the Megan Meier case, was convicted of three misdemeanors in a federal case using an anti-hacking law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. She was found innocent of felony charges. She is expected to appeal.
3vi1 6 years ago

All of your examples are SMS messages and email. Those don't stay on the internet forever, and therefore don't need any special law.

If there's a law against bullying, then that law should be applied. If there's not, then it's not a crime. There are already laws against making death-threats.

Adding new "... on the internet!" laws only allows them to charge you with two different crimes that are actually the same thing.  This ensures that someone who actually killed a person will be elligible for parole long before you get out for sending a hot-headed e-mail.

And if anyone disagrees, I'll ki.. uh... kid... them about it?

jeremy 6 years ago

They didn't make a new law, they revised an existing one. Laws in these sorts of cases are generally quite specific. The existing law probably covered written and spoken threats to do harm. SMS and e-mail are, technically anyway, not written in the literal sense. Modifying the language of the law to fit the times seems appropriate to me.

If threatening harm to a person is a crime, do you believe a person should get to walk simply due of the means they used to deliver the threat? I don't.

jeremy 6 years ago

D'oh, didn't proofread enuf.

*If threatening to do harm to a person is a crime, do you believe a person should get to walk simply due to the means they used to deliver the threat?

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