Constitutionality of Cyberbullying Laws: Keeping the Online Playground Safe for Both Teens and Free Speech
The Internet is a blessing and a curse.1 Along with the manifold benefits the Internet provides—electronic research, instantaneous news, social networking, online shopping, to name a few—comes a host of dangers: online harassment and cyberbullying, hacking, voyeurism, identity theft, phishing, and perhaps still more perils that have yet to appear.2 The Internet creates a virtual world that can result in very real consequences for people’s lives. This creates a challenge for parents, schools, and policymakers attempting to keep pace with rapidly developing technologies and to provide adequate protections for children.
The even greater challenge, however, is to balance these vital protections with the equally compelling freedoms of speech, expression, and thought.3 The heart-wrenching suicide of Missouri teenager Megan Meir in 2006 directed national attention to the devastating effects of online harassment and cyberbullying.4 Megan was a thirteen-year-old middle-school student who engaged in an online relationship with a purported fellow teen, Josh Evans, through the popular social–networking website MySpace.5 What began as a friendly and flirtatious exchange of messages escalated into a barrage of cruel and insulting attacks that drove Megan, who suffered from clinical depression, to take her own life.6 Megan’s mother found her hanging in her closet by her neck from a belt the day of Josh’s final posting: “The world would be a better place without you.”
In a tragic twist of events following Megan’s death, her parents discovered that Josh Evans never existed.7 Instead they found that Lori Drew, and adult neighbor and mother of one of Megan’s female friends, created the profile in order to learn Megan’s opinion of her daughter. 8 Sadly, the hoax escalated far beyond that initial intent.
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