The U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee met about the possibility of imposing legislation that would punish those who try to “coerce, intimidate, harass or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.” It was proposed that offenders spend up to two years in prison for what is being called “cyberbullying.”
Indeed, this is becoming a very serious and potentially deadly issue. In 2006, the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier made headlines since she had been the victim of cyberbullying on MySpace. The perpetrator ended up being an adult neighbor who was pretending to be a teenage boy.
On the flipside, students were suspended for bullying their principal through Facebook by calling him a “Grinch of School Spirit” and making sexually explicit, derogatory comments about him.
The proposed legislation was actually inspired by Megan and has been dubbed the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act.” Since people from all walks of life can now be hurt electronically (often anonymously), this legislation seems like a good idea, but the committee members felt that it could lead to a breach of free speech.
The bill aimed to specify “serious, repeated hostile communications made with the intent to harm” and one would think that this falls under the category of harassment, which is not permitted, regardless of one’s right to express themselves freely.
Without any legislation in place, the rules are very murky on this issue, which makes it hard to hold anyone accountable for their actions and how they might be harming someone else.
Since no action was taken on the proposed bill, the future of cyberbullying remains in question.