49 States Have Cyberbullying Laws: Is Your State One Of Them?
It’s 2006: Megan Meier is a 13-year-old Missourian teenager who is often described as “bubbly” and “goofy,” but who is also under the care of a psychiatrist for ADD, depression, and self-esteem issues related to her weight problems. Like most teenagers at the time, she has a MySpace account; while online, she meets a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans who lives in the next town over. Though Megan never meets Josh in person, she falls for him, and friends say that her mood has improved as a result of this online relationship.
Fast forward to October 16th: Josh’s messages suddenly take a cruel turn, and he tells Megan he doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore because “I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.” He posts defamatory statements about her online and shares some of her private messages with the public. His final message to Megan reads, “You are a bad person and everybody hates you [ ] The world is a better place without you.”
On October 17th, Megan is found having hanged herself in her bedroom closet.
A few weeks later, it is divulged that Josh Evans’ MySpace account is a fake, created by Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s friends. The predatory hoax, she will later admit, was intended to “mess with” Megan.
The investigation falls flat locally as Missouri law enforcement finds that Drew’s hoax didn’t violate any state laws. Federal prosecutors push the issue in what is to be known as the country’s first cyberbullying trial, where Drew is convicted of three misdemeanor charges for unauthorized computer access.
The landmark case brings attention to cyberbullying and inspires many states to institute laws that address it. Missouri institutes “Megan’s Law,” criminalizing the use of the Internet to harass someone. A federal bill titled the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act that proposes to fine or imprison cyberbullies is introduced in 2009. Sadly, the bill dies in congress and is never passed.
What follows is a rocky and confusing path for cyberbullying legislation that persists to this day. But before we address the laws, let’s first define the problem.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is when sch ool-aged children mistreat each other in an intimidating and abusive manner. The key traits of bullying are:
Verbal or physical aggression
An imbalance (real or perceived) of social or physical power