A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the indictment of the woman who harassed teenager Megan Meier and in that post I talked about the importance of adults taking responsibility for activities teens take part in on the web. I was reminded of that post as I read about new legislation in Congress, The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Protection Act – H.R. 6123. This act states:
Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
At first glance it might seem like that legal statement makes a lot of sense. But, in reading more about that portion of the Act, it might become more and more clear that legislating cyberbullying is just something that can’t really work. The sponsors of the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Protection Act are Linda Sanchez and Kenny Hulshof and as stated on the Volokh Conspiracy blog:
Wow. So if I harshly criticize Reps. Sanchez and Hulshof (â€œhostileâ€) at least twice (â€œrepeatedâ€) in a way that a jury finds â€œsevere,â€ whatever that exactly means, and if I do that â€œwith the intent to … cause substantial emotional distress,â€ I could go to prison for up to two years. My criticism could be perfectly accurate. It could be an expression of my opinion, including on political, social, or religious issues. The desire to cause substantial emotional distress could be prompted by the target’s reprehensible actions or political views, and could be coupled with a genuine attempt to persuade the public. Doesn’t matter: My actions would be a crime.
Even Megan Meier’s mother seems to know that legislation isn’t the answer to the problem of cyberbullying she recently is quoted as saying:
…Change has to start with the kids, but parents need to talk more to their children. ‘The biggest thing I tell parents is to communicate and know what’s going on with their child. They have to know what apps they’re using and be on those sites.’
Bullying of any kind is horrendous, no matter where it takes place – whether it be in a virtual or physical space. What happened to Megan Meier is also horrendous. But, is it really possible for the federal government to legislate bullying – whether it be virtual or physical?
This is an issue that will most likely be of concern to adults serving teens, and teens, for a long time. It’s a good idea to stay on top of what’s happening locally and nationally and be ready to talk about the importance of educating teens and adults about online (and offline) behaviors. A law might make adults feel that teens are safe from cyberbullying. But, is that really going to be the case?