Congress is working on legislation that would make it a federal crime (felony) to harass or intimidate someone by means of electronic devices or over the Web. In response to the Megan Meier suicide, the new act has been introduced in the House, “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act.“
If this act graduated into a law it would effectively prohibit free speech on the Web. By limiting the expression that one can use to share thoughts on a subject online, you effectively limit the free speech that is protected in the constitution.
If I am allowed to stand on the street and say anything I want, I should be able to do that on the Internet. I mean, that’s what the Internet is for, right? The digital restroom to write anything on the wall.
Cyberbullying is a problem, but it is not the government’s job to police everything. That is, let’s say they did put together a process for managing harassing behavior… and the process fails, is the government immune from liability? (One would think they are due to the lack of accountability.)
The responsibility for children’s safety is in the parents, not public officials. ISPs also need to support parents in keeping their children safe by implementing successful and accountable controls and reporting functions in their user-generated content.
Legislation against cyberbullying or any other form of regulation of the Internet are ineffective. For instance, it’s illegal to download copyrighted material — but it happens every second on the Web. Any time the government wishes to step in and outlaw an activity that a small minority of people participate it, it fails. Another example of the failed effectiveness of some laws, look at the “War on Drugs:” It’s illegal to consume and distribute drugs and narcotics, but everyone knows someone who does.
There are already protections in place for people to remedy harassment online — usually starting from notifying the service provider, to notifying their ISP including notifying their local law enforcement. In my experience, law enforcement agencies are ill-equipped to respond to harassment over the Web because they are fighting “real crime,” and don’t have the necessary understanding of how the Internet works.
I understand this is a mixed subject, but everyone has a responsibility and we need to stop pointing the finger and start becoming responsible for our own activities online.
[Article via CNet News Blog]