Friday, November 30, 2007

Megan Meiers' Legacy: Cyberbully Laws To Be Enacted

Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier's suicide was tragic but Megan's legacy may help to save others from the new scourge of cyberbullying.[1]
St. Louis is poised to join the growing list of cities in the region to make Internet bullying a crime.

The city’s Board of Aldermen has on its agenda this morning a proposed ordinance “prohibiting any person from harassment by means of the Internet or other electronic communications.”

The legislation is an apparent response to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, who hung herself last year after receiving cruel messages on the Internet.
When Megan's story hit the papers and internet the reaction was one of outrage and sorrow. Outrage over the revelation that Megan was tortured by a form of "cyber-bullying". Sorrow that a young girl chose to end her life.

There are different forms of cyberbullying.


Cyber-bullies can and do use e-mail to send harassing and threatening messages to the targets of their hatred and loathing. Those who are bullied often ask themselves "What have I done to deserve this?" and the usual answer is that they have not done anything to deserve such awful messages.

It is often possible to trace which e-mail account the message was sent from, however, it is almost impossible to prove who actually used this e-mail account to send the offending messages. Messages sent from accounts with local/regional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can be more easily traced and acted upon than messages sent from large Web-based e-mail accounts such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail etc. [2]
Instant Messaging
Cyberbullies can and do use IM to send harassing and threatening messages to the targets of their hatred and loathing. IM has become a very large part of the social lives of our young people. The relationships they form with others in school and in other facets of their lives are extended and maintained through IM-ing. The conversations and conflicts that arise online often give rise to behaviours that are acted out in person during school or at the local shopping mall. [2]
Chat Rooms
The "bash board" is the nickname for an online bulletin board, or virtual chat room, where teenagers can go to anonymously and write anything they want, true or false, creating or adding mean-spirited postings for the world to see.

People are not always who they appear to be or who they say they are in chat rooms. Chat rooms can be places where some strangers may try to "befriend" others, especially young people. They may attempt to lure them into meeting in person. Young people should NEVER arrange to meet someone in person whom they have been in contact with online.

Young kids shouldn't be in chat room unless a trusted and responsible parent or guardian is sitting with them at the computer. Older kids should be only in moderated chat rooms and even moderated chat rooms can lead to compromising, embarrassing and harassing situations. Kids shouldn't exchange e-mail with someone from a chat room or arrange to meet someone from a chat room without a parent or guardian present. [2]
Text Messaging
Short for Short Message Service Similar to paging, SMS is a service for sending short text messages to mobile phones. (Webopedia: ).

SMS: The Short Message Service (SMS) is the ability to send and receive text messages to and from mobile telephones. The text can comprise of words or numbers or an alphanumeric combination. SMS was created when it was incorporated into the Global System for Mobiles (GSM) digital mobile phone standard. A single short message can be up to 160 characters of text in length using default GSM alphabet coding, and 70 characters when UCS2 international character coding is used.

EMS: -Enhanced Messaging Service (text messaging with more bells and whistles)

MMS -Multimedia Messaging Service, (MMS) is the ability to send messages comprising a combination of text, sounds, images and video to MMS capable handsets.

PDAs: PDAs stand for Personal Digital Assistants. You might recognize these better if we used names like Palm Pilot, RIM Blackberry, Handspring Visor / Treo, Sony Clie, iPaq, Pocket PC etc. Most of these are not only personal information organizers, they can now connect to the Internet, receive and send e-mail and browse the World Wide Web. [2]
Web Sites
Cyberbullies can create Web sites that mock, torment and harass others. If these are published on a local/regional Internet Service Provider (ISP), you should copy and print out these Web sites and then contact the ISP. Give them a chance to respond and address the situtation. For most responsible IPSs in Canada, this is likely a violation of the Terms of Use or Acceptable Use Policies (AUP). Better ISPs will post a copy of their AUP in an easily accessible place as well as appropriate contact information where you can report any such abusive situations with an e-mail account such as (example).[2]
Megan's hometown just recently passed an anti-cyber-bullying law:
Since the circumstances surrounding her death became public earlier this month, officials in both Dardenne Prairie and Florissant have approved laws against Net harassment.

The Meiers have accused neighbor Lori Drew, her 13-year-old daughter and Drew's employee, Ashley Grills, 18, of creating a fictitious profile to send messages to Megan. [1]
Bullying has always existed. The internet has made it easier for someone to harass others online by the ability to post anonymously. Offline the "bully" might be too afraid to act for fear of being caught or engage in a face to face confrontation. So in essence the anonymity of the internet offers the coward an avenue that wasn't available in the past.

These new laws give the victim of a cyberbully the avenue to press charges. Before Megan this avenue wasn't available. The victim was left to deal with the cyber-bully on their own. Cyber-bullies operated without fear of prosecution. Those days seem to be coming to end as hopefully more communities enact cyber harassment laws.

Megan's death was tragic but the instantaneous outrage over Megan's story was the catalyst needed to enact cyberbullying laws. Megan's legacy may save others from the vicious type of harassment Megan suffered. For this we owe Megan our thanks.

Source - 1 - MySpace Cruel Prank Leads To Teen’s Suicide
Source - 2 -
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