Missouri Updates Harassment Law to Include Internet and Text Messages

By July 02, 2008

Missouri governor Matt Blunt signed a bill that changes the definition of harassment after 13-year old Megan Meier committed suicide in 2006 because of messages sent over social networking site Myspace, as we previously reported. The updated harassment law takes into account communications via text messaging and online, whereas the previous version was limited to written or verbal, such as over the telephone. The signed bill comes almost two years after Megan Meier killed herself after receiving demeaning and antagonistic messages on Myspace. The messages were between Meier, 13 years old, and a fictional teenager named Josh. According to the Associated Press, Meier’s neighbor Lori Drew along with her daughter and an employee set up the fake account in order to see what Meier said about Drew’s daughter.

The communications began amicably, but over time “Josh’s” messages became more mean-spirited and antagonistic, at one time even saying the world would be a better place without the teenager.

Taking the messages to heart, Meier committed suicide in October 2006.

The suicide and discovery of the source—Myspace messages—prompted Megan’s mother Tina Meier to strongly advocate legal changes that would prosecute such harassment without controversy.

Online harassment is a growing concern for many, especially parents like Tina, who see popular social networking sites as a fertile ground for such behavior. With many impressionable teenagers online in such sites, the Internet is becoming a place of concern as well a place to communicate.

Currently, Lori Drew is charged with conspiracy and accessing private computers without permission because of her fraudulent means of creating the fake Myspace account. She is awaiting trial in Los Angeles where Myspace is headquartered.

With Gov. Blunt’s signed bill, it may not be long until similar legal changes are enacted across the country.

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