Recently, a case came up before the Missouri court involving a 40-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl, with the former having been charged with felony harassment as she posted the girl’s personal contact information and photo on Craigslist in their subsection for individuals seeking “Casual Encounters” (you can imagine what that means). To note, this is the first application of Missouri’s new cyberharassment and cyberbullying law, which went into effect in June of 2008 following the media coverage of Megan Meier’s suicide.
The defendant and her attorney claim this was simply a practical joke. Her attorney also claims that had this same information been written on a bathroom wall, she would not have been charged.
I disagree with both of these assertions. First, there must be a line drawn as to what constitutes a practical joke, and that boundary was crossed when the defendant put the plaintiff at risk for actual, tangible harm. Secondly, to compare the writing on a bathroom wall to posting on the Internet is preposterous when considering the differential size of populations that would view each. Third, I believe it is completely appropriate for a judge and jury to consider the reality of recent Craiglist-related victimizations when interpreting the content and context of this case. Much like we don’t shrug off facetious statements about bombs in airports, we can’t shrug off the reality that the disclosure of personal information online can lead to serious harm offline. Finally, minors are (and should be) afforded even greater protection from these types of actions.