Online Harassment Legislation
I just listened to State Sen. Rupp on KMOX (thanks, Combest), discussing legislation that targets online harassment. The Dardenne Prairie law was drafted in response to the tragic suicide of a teen girl after a woman claiming to be a 16-year-old boy allegedly made hurtful comments to her on the MySpace website.
I agree with Rupp that legislators need to be careful when writing this kind of legislation. An op-ed in the Harvard Crimson explains why the law should be rethought:
The law is also extremely vague. It defines harassment as engaging in a “pattern of conduct” that would cause a reasonable person to suffer “substantial emotional distress.” But what period of time results in the distinction of a “pattern” rather than haphazard nastiness? And what does “substantial” entail for the “average” person? Suicide? A few tears?
However, I think the op-ed might be going too far when it compares what happened in this case with the usual teasing all teens experience at some point. Creating a fake Internet personality for the purpose of humiliating someone isn’t quite the same as merely saying to her face, "You look like a dork." Some online harassment is so pernicious that the law should address it. But we want to be careful not to criminalize every tactless email-writer.