By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Friday, November 30th, 2007 at 5:39 pm in Health & Safety.
No charges will be filed against a 47-year-old woman who posed as a 16-year-old boy on MySpace.com and issued insults that led a 13-year-old girl to commit suicide. News of the incident broke a week ago, leading to a firestorm of phone calls, e-mails and blog postings. The anger hasn’t died down. Nor should it.
The woman, Lori Drew of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., created the persona of a 16-year-old named Josh so “he” could befriend 13-year-old Megan Meier, a former friend of Drew’s daughter. The elaborate ruse ended when “Josh” turned on Megan, insulting her and reportedly writing, “The world would be a better place without you.” Megan used a belt to hang herself in her bedroom closet.
Problem is, Drew didn’t break any laws. As a sheriff’s department spokesman explained, what she did “might have been rude, it might have been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.” Now is the time to make it illegal.
Internet harassment is a major problem and not exactly new. Remember the 2005 attack of a Hercules High School student in a campus bathroom that was videotaped and aired on the Internet? These incidents occur, we become outraged, then we react. We can’t fathom where Internet misbehavior will take us next, and so, we often are without laws to address it. Common sense and decency are no longer the rule of thumb, especially considering we have an adult acting irresponsibly in this case.
The Board of Alderman reacted in this case by passing a measure that makes Internet harassment a misdemeanor, subject to a maximum $500 fine and 90-day jail sentence. Even the mayor recognized that this isn’t punishment enough. Cases such as these are the equivalent of stalking, and when involving adults, also child abuse. They shoud be punished accordingly.
Until then, we as parents need to expect the worst. We need to monitor our children’s Internet usage. In our home, our 11-year-old is not allowed a MySpace page. She is only allowed in controlled chat areas where we approve her friends. Recently, she had one of her older sisters create an account with limitless chat capability. That earned her a lengthy discussion about why this could be dangerous. She went back to her friends-only chats without objection. Realistically, we know it won’t always be this easy. But being proactive sure beats the alternative.