According to an editorial in the New York Times, “Vague Cyberbullying Law,” “Lori Drew acted grotesquely if, as prosecutors charged, she went online and bullied her daughter’s classmate, a 13-year-old girl who ended up committing suicide.  A federal court was right, however, to throw out her misdemeanor convictions recently.  The crimes she was found guilty of, essentially violating the MySpace Web site’s rules, are too vague to be constitutional.”

Whether or not we’d agree with the constitutional interpretation of the US District Court judge, I think the ruling illustrates clearly why we need clear, specific laws to stop cyber bullies.

Freedom of speech is not the issue.  We abridge freedom of speech in many ways because, in some situations, there are values more important than freedom of speech.  That’s why we prohibit yelling “fire” in crowded public places and why we have laws against libel and slander.  Difficulties in enforcing some laws like libel and slander are no reason not to have such laws.  We recognize that such difficulties mean that there are a lot of gray areas in human behavior in these areas.  Therefore, we expect human judgment to be required in these difficult areas.  But if we didn’t have laws, we’d never be able to respond to cases that are clear.

Angry, vindictive and relentless bullies will continue to abuse their targets by whatever means they can.  If we avoid the difficulties in trying to stop cyber bullying, if we say that we can’t distinguish between lying about our age, weight or physical appearance online, and plotting to cause emotional distress or persecuting someone or spreading malicious, false gossip and rumors online, we only encourage cyber bullying – especially if it can be done anonymously.

Therefore, we need laws that are as specific and clear as we can write them, as well as human judgment in enforcing them.  I’d rather have the option to effectively prosecute people like Lori Drew than to be unable to because there are no clear and specific laws.

Because internet use is nationwide, we need the laws to be Federal laws.

On the other side of the equation, we hope we’ll be able to raise our children to be more sturdy than Megan Meier was.  But we’ll never succeed in raising all our children to be mentally and emotionally strong enough to resist all pressures and stress.  Not all children will develop the self-esteem and self-confidence to thrive in the real world.  Negative input and negative self-talk will always be a problem.  But in many cases, strong Federal laws will help protect people, especially teenagers.  Cyber safety for as many people as possible takes precedence over freedom of speech.

Resource Cited: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/08/opinion/08tue2.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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