Internet Harassment Law – When Bad Facts Create Bad Law

By November 22, 2007Internet Lawyer

In response to a 13-year-old girl killing herself after being harassed online, a Missouri city has passed a law that makes it a crime to engage in online harassment. For the law to apply, one of the people communicating must be within city limits.

You can sympathize with what happened to the poor girl yet still oppose this law because it is the wrong solution to cyber-harassment.

Why?

Constitutional free speech will be suppressed if you have to worry about what every small city, town, or village passes that could affect what you write simply because the recipient happens to be within the jurisdiction of municipality that passed the law. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor state constitutions contain a right not to be offended. And what if you happen to ‘victimize’ a client by e-mailing an unfriendly reminder that payment is overdue? Have you violated a local ordinance by doing so? There are interstate commerce implications in addition to the free speech issues.

Well, what about the girl?

If her parents have a remedy under civil law, they should pursue it.

If it is in the interest of the state or the federal government to enact legislation that includes constitutional protections, that’s an option too.

But having municipalities do so makes as little sense as regulating silly walks.

In this case, the city’s new law isn’t “for the children.” It is raw political opportunism capitalizing on the death of a minor. Now THAT should be a crime.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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