Missouri Possible: Show Us the Way to Best Deal with Internet Harassment

by on December 19, 2007 · 5 comments

Here’s your assignment: you’re a state governor who’s up for re-election, and your state is still reeling in the wake of a high-publicity suicide by a teenage girl brought upon by inflammatory statements communicated through a popular social networking website.  

What do you do? Panic and quickly push through a reactive new law, (maybe even sock it to the social networking industry), or do you study the issue to come up with a sound approach? If you’re the Governor of Missouri, you create a multi-disciplinary task force to review current law and enforcement related to Internet harassment and recommend changes to better protect the citizens of your state.

Yesterday I was in Jefferson City to participate in this task force, which included representatives from the law enforcement, nonprofit, academic, mental health, and business communities. The task force met to specifically create the new crime of cyber-harassment in response to Megan Meier’s suicide almost a year ago, but still newsworthy and on the minds of many people as this New York Times article from last week shows.

Cyber-harassment can be devastating and dangerous to victims. Due to the ease of sending electronic communications, harassment that occurs online can be instant, frequent, anonymous, and permanently public. Cyber-harassers can easily impersonate their victims and even encourage third parties to unwittingly "flame" and harass a victim.

Tina Meier, Megan’s mom, opened up our task force meeting by recounting the tragic story of her daughter’s death. Megan was a 13 year old girl that had befriended what she thought was a boy on MySpace but turned out to be an adult neighbor that lived next-door.


"Josh Evans" was a fiction allegedly created to see what Megan was saying about the neighbor’s own daughter, and over a period of a month earned Megan’s trust and endearment. But one day this adult sent Megan’s world crashing when the fictitious boy turned against Megan, who for a period of hours sent a barrage of mean and harassing communications. Severely distraught and at the bottom of her emotional roller coaster, Megan took her own life.

Missouri and federal prosecutors could not pursue a case based on existing stalking, harassment and child endangerment. But it should be a crime for somebody to use Internet (or any other form of communications technology) to intentionally engage in conduct that would cause a reasonable person (especially children) severe emotional distress, not just fear for her physical safety.

As policymakers look to create cyber-harassment laws, they should engage in the kind of analysis that applies to any new law:  consider whether the law will be effective, the costs to enforce the new law, and any potentially unintended consequences.  Harassment can be perpetrated in number of technological ways, whether it is by phone, fax, email, blog postings, or old fashioned pen and paper. This begs the question of why we should refer to harassment using the Internet as an "Internet" or "Cyber" crime. Internet communications may have created new avenues to harass, but it’s still harassment no matter how one does it. That’s why any new laws (if they are deemed necessary to fill gaps in current law) should, as much as possible, be technology neutral and focus on bad acts, not technology.

Foremost, I discussed the ways that industry is working to keep users safe and help law enforcement to catch the bad guys. All of the major ISPs provide parental control software, often for free (see Adam Thierer’s survey of online tools). MySpace is leading the industry with innovations to keep bad actors off  and to monitor for bad conduct on its site. And companies like AOL, Microsoft, MySpace and Yahoo! regularly interact with law enforcement to help provide technical training and provide information in response to subpoenas.

Cyber-harassment is the narrow focus of the task force, but the scope of this issue is broad. Is harassment limited to adults harassing children or other adults, or does it include child vs. child too? Or is a child harassing another child what we’d call "cyber-bullying", which is undesirable but may not be criminal behavior? How do we incorporate a reasonable person standard when, as was the case with Megan, a victim is particularly susceptible to the effects of harassing conduct, due to diminished capacity or depression? To what extent should schools be involved in responding to cyber-bullying?

The task force will be dealing with these and other tough issues as it drafts cyber-harassment legislation. If Missouri can get it right, than the "show me" state can be an example for other states on how to create and draft well-targeted and effective legislation, even on the heels of tragedy.

  • Terance Healy

    Here’s Some Truth… My experience is tech torture with strong efforts to prevent reporting to law enforcement who will not know what to do if
    you get to them anyway. Tech-Torture.

    WebWatcher from Awareness Technologies is a stealth remotely controlled surveillance/redirection/obfuscation program.
    You can but it for less than $100.
    If it is illegally installed you are completely out of luck there is NO WAY TO REMOVE IT FROM YOUR COMPUTER WITHOUT THE HotKeys and Password.
    Law Enforcement has no way of dealing with an illegal installation of a software program.

    When the program can hinder your finding the information or help for you te remove it yourself.

    Add in FlexiSpy, a stealth spyware program for the cell phone. It can be installed by your answering a wrong number. Once installed every phone call is recorded, every text message is copied, everything you do on your phone is reported back to a web site for review and mp3 playback by the spy. And they capability for them to redirect your phone calls – perhaps when you call about the computer spy program – can lead you to wonder maybe that is why I never get anything resolved when I asked about that suspicious file.

    The inability for you to send an email reply or get a simple answer from tech support will make YOU sound crazy.

    Go to Verizon to report it and they have no idea that these programs exist. Escalate it and ask for their security person and they tell you to go to local police. If Verizon doesn’t know about the software and they are in the phone biz, why expect local police to know about it.

    Put these 2 tools in the hands of a lawyer (The CHAMPION, Journal for Criminal Defense Lawyers, March 2007, pg 12), perhaps a divorce lawyer. That lawyer becomes clairvoyant and a superhero for their clients. And if you figure it out, they will tell you you are crazy, trusting the software is invisible stealthware. Not thinking that nothing is truly invisible, just hiding very well. Like a software program which has had all of its files renamed and placed in a subdirectory with security program, or your video adapter, or another program that you are unlikely to adjust for fear of doing more harm than good… BUT WHEN YOU LOOK UP ANY FILE, you can’t find anything out… THEY HAVE CONTROL OF YOUR SEARCHES!!!!

    This is not an overactive imagination. It is tech-torture. And if you survive to get to law enforcement, they do not know what to do to help. You are on your own. And the anti-virus/anti spy programs that promise to protect your computer… they have classified the program as a lite monitoring program and have chosen to not detect it. Email or phone them to let them know… Ha ha just try to get to them your email is hacked and so is your phone!

    Resistance is futile. Destruction is imminent. The more you try to survive, the harder it will be on you.

  • Terance Healy

    Here’s Some Truth… My experience is tech torture with strong efforts to prevent reporting to law enforcement who will not know what to do if
    you get to them anyway. Tech-Torture.

    WebWatcher from Awareness Technologies is a stealth remotely controlled surveillance/redirection/obfuscation program.
    You can but it for less than $100.
    If it is illegally installed you are completely out of luck there is NO WAY TO REMOVE IT FROM YOUR COMPUTER WITHOUT THE HotKeys and Password.
    Law Enforcement has no way of dealing with an illegal installation of a software program.

    When the program can hinder your finding the information or help for you te remove it yourself.

    Add in FlexiSpy, a stealth spyware program for the cell phone. It can be installed by your answering a wrong number. Once installed every phone call is recorded, every text message is copied, everything you do on your phone is reported back to a web site for review and mp3 playback by the spy. And they capability for them to redirect your phone calls – perhaps when you call about the computer spy program – can lead you to wonder maybe that is why I never get anything resolved when I asked about that suspicious file.

    The inability for you to send an email reply or get a simple answer from tech support will make YOU sound crazy.

    Go to Verizon to report it and they have no idea that these programs exist. Escalate it and ask for their security person and they tell you to go to local police. If Verizon doesn’t know about the software and they are in the phone biz, why expect local police to know about it.

    Put these 2 tools in the hands of a lawyer (The CHAMPION, Journal for Criminal Defense Lawyers, March 2007, pg 12), perhaps a divorce lawyer. That lawyer becomes clairvoyant and a superhero for their clients. And if you figure it out, they will tell you you are crazy, trusting the software is invisible stealthware. Not thinking that nothing is truly invisible, just hiding very well. Like a software program which has had all of its files renamed and placed in a subdirectory with security program, or your video adapter, or another program that you are unlikely to adjust for fear of doing more harm than good… BUT WHEN YOU LOOK UP ANY FILE, you can’t find anything out… THEY HAVE CONTROL OF YOUR SEARCHES!!!!

    This is not an overactive imagination. It is tech-torture. And if you survive to get to law enforcement, they do not know what to do to help. You are on your own. And the anti-virus/anti spy programs that promise to protect your computer… they have classified the program as a lite monitoring program and have chosen to not detect it. Email or phone them to let them know… Ha ha just try to get to them your email is hacked and so is your phone!

    Resistance is futile. Destruction is imminent. The more you try to survive, the harder it will be on you.

  • Roberto.c

    Missouri drug intervention is basically here to give an individual the correct resources to get an individual struggling with an addiction that doesn't believe he needs to into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment.
    __________________________________________________________________
    Roberto.c
    Drug Intervention Missouri

  • Roberto.c

    Missouri drug intervention is basically here to give an individual the correct resources to get an individual struggling with an addiction that doesn't believe he needs to into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment.
    __________________________________________________________________
    Roberto.c
    Drug Intervention Missouri

  • Roberto.c

    Missouri drug intervention is basically here to give an individual the correct resources to get an individual struggling with an addiction that doesn't believe he needs to into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment.
    __________________________________________________________________
    Roberto.c
    Drug Intervention Missouri

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