Missouri’s new cyberharassment law

Seven people have been prosecuted under Missouri's new online-harassment law, passed after 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying in 2006. "When a press report in 2007 revealed the role that 47-year-old Lori Drew played in Meier's harassment, local authorities felt pressured to charge Drew with a crime, but could find no law under which to prosecute her. So Missouri lawmakers drafted legislation to outlaw future threats or harassing communication that causes emotional distress," Wired's Kim Zetter reports, adding that, under this law, either misdemeanor or felony charges can apply. The seven current cases involve everything from harassing messages to physical threats, most involved text messages via cellphone, and – interestingly – none of the cases Wired cites involved social networking. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cites the view of author and cyberbullying expert Justin Patchin that laws like Missouri's "fail to deter such behavior by young people because most don't understand what cyberbullying is." They may be more effective, he added, in "protecting children targeted by adults," but the Post-Dispatch says he's "skeptical that such laws will be upheld in courts." At least 18 states now have laws targeting Internet harassment and cyberstalking, according to the Post-Dispatch. Here's the ReadWriteWeb blog on all this with a post about current efforts to reduce or end online anonymity.

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