We are all waiting with baited breath to learn of the sentencing decision to be handed down this week against Lori Drew. In part because of the incredible amount of controversy surrounding this case, I believe the sentence will be minor and not amount to more than a proverbial slap on the wrist. Already we have seen what some consider a misapplication of the law (prosecuting Ms. Drew under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), and another questionable, emotion-laden decision by the courts in a uniquely complicated case has the potential to seriously and negatively affect how we use and benefit from the Internet.
The article provides a quote that represents and perpetuates one of the most misguided perspectives surrounding cyberbullying:
“If federal law recognises this new form of bullying, police and prosecutors will be better equipped and educated to deal with this problem. Prosecutors, more importantly, will then have the ability to punish this behaviour in court.”
While Justin has covered this in a recent post, I would encourage everyone in favor of this response strategy to methodically evaluate whether more law enforcement, more fines, and more imprisonment are going to a) deter a person’s decision to harass or mistreat another person *online* (not face-to-face) in the heat of the moment b) lead to a fundamental change in the way individuals treat each other in cyberspace (we have so many laws on the books that have done NOTHING to truly improve our bent towards wrongdoing) and c) contribute to a culture of respect, tolerance, empathy, and kindness across all interpersonal interactions. As a scholar of criminal justice and criminology, I can’t emphasize enough that regulation will NOT lead to these outcomes, and that it is naïve at best and ignorant at worst to believe that it will.
While the circumstances of Megan Meier’s death are horrific, the legacy stemming from her tragedy should not be the creation of unncessary and fruitless regulation buttressed by the threat of unnecessary and fruitless penalties. Rather, the legacy should be that of an eye-opener that revolutionizes and radically propels forward educational efforts to instruct, guide, and empower individuals (both youth and adults) to participate in online communications with wisdom, rationality, caution, and kindness.