Her name was Megan Taylor Meier. She had just started eighth grade at a new school when she decided to break off her friendship with a girl down the street. Yet, amid all of those changes, Megan was the happiest she had ever been because she had met a cute sixteen year old boy on Myspace named Josh who was new to the area. Josh was the perfect Myspace boyfriend. The two formed a quick connection during their month-long relationship. Until one night, out of the blue, Josh told Megan that he didn’t want to talk to her anymore because “Everybody knows how you are. You’re a bad person and everybody hates you.” He then said, “Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you. ” She responded with a message saying, “You’re the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over.” Megan Meier took her own life that night. Six weeks later, Megan’s parents found out that Josh never existed. The mother of the girl that Megan used to be friends with, Lori Drew, had created him to get back at Megan for not being her daughter’s friend anymore. Her tragic suicide was the result of cyber bullying, an act that, in today’s technological era, has become increasingly more common and can have devastating effects.
Cyber bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies that augment deliberate, repeated, hostile behaviors (by an individual or a group) that are intended to harm someone. Perpetrators of cyber bullying have a vast range of interactive tools at their disposal such as instant messaging, cell phones, social networks, and cyber bashing web sites that can be used to harm a victim.These behaviors include, but are not limited to harassment, denigration, and cyberstalking. Harassment is a term used to describe what is perhaps the most common form of cyber bullying, involving cruel or offensive messages sent to somebody. Denigration implies posting untrue information about a person to hurt or sabotage the target’s reputation or friendships. This may be in the form of slightly altered photos of someone or online slam web pages. Cyberstalking is a particularly scary form of cyber bullying that involves continuously sending messages including threats of harm.
The long term impact of cyber bullying has a much greater potential for harm than traditional bullying. Digital images, slam pages, and other electronic means can travel at an instantaneous speed and reach a potentially limitless number of people. Unlike traditional bullying episodes that are limited to a school community, harmful texts and images associated with cyber bullying have the power to communicate to an unlimited audience in seconds. There is a direct correlation between the audience size and the potential for humility. Thus, cyber bullying has the capability of causing a more traumatic experience to the victim than does traditional bullying.
According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” And although online speech is entitled to the same protection as traditional speech under this amendment, the right to speak freely is not always given. In some situations, if a student’s speech is considered a serious threat, schools must respond to the situation and discipline the cyber bullying student. Failing to do so may result in an expensive lawsuit, or in a worst-case scenario, the death of another student. This presents a touchy dilemma to school officials: if they respond to the online threats and discipline a student, they may be in violation of that student’s first amendment rights; if they sit back and do nothing, they may have to face a serious law suit.
Perhaps the real question here concerns the idea of harm versus speech. Could Lori Drew’s actions be considered harmful, and if so, is she a murderer? Or was Megan’s interpretation of Drew’s speech the real cause of her tragic suicide? Furthermore, what is harm in this case? Should slandering/labeling someone, or messing with someone’s psychological state be considered a harmful act? If it is does, is it time for the court system to reevaluate the punishments for these types of actions? It’s evident that cyber bullying poses potentially more dangerous effects than traditional bullying. Could it be justified to lift the term “bullying” and replace it with a more serious term such as “abuse”? Lori Drew was ultimately acquitted of all 4 charges against her, however, the Missouri state legislature is currently testing an anti-cyber bullying law known as the “Megan Meier Cyber bullying Prevention Act.” If passed, this law will criminalize the use of phone or internet by anyone 21 years old or older to cause emotional distress to anyone 17 years old or younger. Should this law be declared unconstitutional based on the freedom of speech?