Will they listen now?


Reforms urged after MySpace hoax’s victim kills herself (AP via pantagraph.com)

I’ve been following this story as it’s been developing for the past few days. This doesn’t exactly follow the pattern of behaviour I’ve been so interested in tracking recently, since the person who created the fake "Josh" account on MySpace was an adult (and a parent at that) rather than a fellow teenager, but what happened to Megan is certainly similar to what I’ve been warning could happen if this kind of Internet misanthropy, more common among younger people than people the age of the parent mentioned in this story, continued unchecked. Although I have mentioned in the past that I am concerned over how some older people have latched onto the relative anonymity of the Internet to keep doing the kind of immature bullying most of us get tired of in our teenage years, this was clearly more a case of premeditated action than juvenile humour. I still think it’s a huge cause for concern, though, and I can only hope that this news story opens up a greater dialogue about this kind of cyberbullying.

At the same time, though, I’m kind of conflicted about how to resolve this issue. Someone on a messageboard I visit pointed out that there is a free speech issue involved here, and of course whenever the words "free speech" get brought up I hesitate because I’m such a huge First Amendment advocate. That being said, there is that whole thing about not being allowed to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre, and I think that in that same spirit it’s hard not to argue that there should be some consequences for telling a vulnerable person to kill himself or herself. (Ignoring that Megan was diagnosed with depression and Attention Deficit Disorder, the fact that she was just thirteen years old kind of automatically made her a vulnerable person.) Perhaps for the parents involved here this was a more methodical thing, but it’s shocking for how many young people this kind of "go kill yourself" rhetoric is a humourous pasttime.

I don’t know if there is a legal solution to this problem that can make me, let alone anyone else, happy. The underlying problem here is a society that encourages people to act in their own self-interest and not care if their actions harm others, and gives young people lots of examples of how attacking other people, whether physically, verbally, or emotionally, can either work to their benefit or at least provide them with "great entertainment." This is a problem that would require an incredibly long time to correct, though, and given the changing sociopolitical climate in this country, we seem to be moving away from a more just society in this regard rather than towards it. In the meantime, though, 13-year-old Megan is dead, and every day since then there have been more immature people going online, harassing people just as vulnerable (if not more so) than Megan and inflicting tremendous emotional pain on these people for their own jollies. I can only hope that this story, as tragic as it is, draws more attention to this problem before it becomes a true epidemic.

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