Town Will Punish Cyberbullies

Girl's death spurs town officials to criminalize online bullying.

Nov. 22, 2007 — -- In Dardenne Prairie, Mo., town officials have passed a measure making online harassment illegal.

It's a different kind of Megan's Law, made in response to the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier. She hanged herself last year after receiving a malicious message from a friend she met online.

Click here for the "Parent's Guide to Internet Safety." What are the warning signs that your child is being abused online?

Megan became friends with Josh Evans on the social networking site Josh claimed he was 16 years old and being home-schooled in a nearby town.

But one day, Josh sent a message to the young girl, saying she was "a bad person" and "everyone hates you." He said he didn't want to be friends with her any longer because he had heard she was not nice to her friends. Others in the online community joined in on the verbal abuse.

Click here for definitions of cyberstalking and harassment and how to prevent it from happening to your family.

The cruelty and magnitude of the messages led Megan to hang herself in her bedroom closet on Oct. 16, 2006. Weeks later, her parents learned that Josh was not a real person. He was just an online identity created by a parent of a former friend of Megan's and her mother who lived down the street in their St. Louis suburb.

The two teenagers had argued, and the girl's mother wanted to find out whether Megan was saying negative things about her daughter.

"That's the biggest tragedy of the whole thing," Megan's father, Ron Meier, said. "An adult did it."

Her mother, Tina Meier, contends that young Megan's medical condition, well known to her former friends, speaks to the malicious intent behind the messaging. "They knew she had depression. They know she had ADD, and they knew the medication she was on and they've known us for years."

Their awareness of her sickness, Megan's heartbroken father says, made their actions "no different than somebody handing her a loaded gun."

The police, however, never charged the friend's mother with a crime and also kept the mother's identity confidential in order to protect her child.

But bloggers in the Internet community sought cyberrevenge.

Using clues from a journalist's article, bloggers not only identified but began to harangue the friend's mother, hurling epithets and referring to the girl's family as "psychos who pushed a teenager to SUICIDE." The mother's contact details and a photo of her husband were also posted online, as if to invite the online community to take justice into their own hands.

At least a third of all teenagers say that they have been victims of cyberbullying at some point. But victims of online harassment that doesn't escalate to physical harm sometimes do not pursue legal action.

Click here to learn more about five steps you should take if you are being cyberbullied.

Tina Meier says she is glad that a measure has finally been passed to criminalize unchecked and hurtful behavior on the Internet, which led to the death of her child.

The town's mayor, Pam Fogarty, told the AP, "It is our hope that by supporting one of our own in Dardenne Prairie, we can do our part to ensure this type of harassing behavior never happens again, anywhere. After all, harassment is harassment regardless of the mechanism or tool."

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