And the Slippery Slope Award of the Day Goes To …
Missouri Sen. Scott Rupp, for his recently introduced bill that seeks to end cyberbullying in the wake of the tragic "MySpace suicide" of Megan Meier, the Dardenne Prairie girl who hanged herself after being the target of hateful messages on the popular social networking website.
First, the details of this case are harrowing, and should provide an excellent cautionary tale to parents in the age of Web 2.0. Now, more than ever, it is essential that attention be paid to what children do and have access to online (the Washington Post has an excellent discussion about this topic).
The problem I have with Sen. Rupp’s bill, though, is that it sets a dangerous precedent for online regulation. The Internet is an entity that has grown and changed lives largely because of anonymity. This anonymity brings freedom in cyberspace, allows a shield of privacy to protect users from having their lives put on display for the entire world, and protects online residents from the actions of others. After all, a law that punishes a "cyberbully" could be applied to the wrong user of a guilty account, because it’s difficult if not impossible, in many cases to prove whether a given users was the one at the keyboard, or whether it was a bystander unaware of the harm being done.
Sen. Rupp’s bill has the good intention of attempting to right a new and unfamiliar wrong, but I cannot agree with his remedy. The Internet may be the greatest common good that the modern economy has ever seen, and any attempt to manage it with a political agenda will bring far more harm than benefit.