Cyber-bullying has become a major issue around the world. Teens across the U.S. and across the pond in Europe find themselves constantly faced with this new form of harassment. But if we had to pick one place as the epicenter of this disturbing new trend it would be Missouri.
The home state of Megan Meier, a girl who committed suicide just before her 14th birthday as a result of being bullied on MySpace, was one of the first to pass anti-cyber-bullying legislation and to expand local harassment laws to cover digital communications. Since the passage of that law, several high-profile cases have come out of the state, including one that involved a 21-year-old woman sending threatening and vulgar text messages to a 17-year-old girl. Now, the state has another cyber-bullying incident garnering national attention. A ninth-grade girl from the town of Troy has been arrested for creating a Web site dedicated to harassing and mocking a fellow student.
The site, which has been taken down, included the victim's name followed by "c**t.com." [Ed. note: Even we won't print that word.] The site featured photos of the target, along with several posts (all made anonymously, of course) disparaging her friends, calling her a slut, and saying she "would be better off if she just died." School district authorities were alarmed by the comments on the site when it was discovered, and quickly involved the local sheriff last Thursday. Lincoln County Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Andy Binder told Wired, "The website had very troublesome things posted on it by an individual who obviously had a dislike for the other female in the school."
Investigators were able to track down the creator of the site by talking to other students whose names appeared on it. The girl confessed to creating the page and was sent to a juvenile detention center. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it's not clear whether or not the girl will face any criminal charges, but her school, The Troy Buchanan Ninth Grade Center, has already taken disciplinary measures. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of what the punishment is, but the school does have a strict no-bullying policy. April Huddleston, a spokeswoman for Lincoln County R-III School District, told Wired that possible penalties include expulsion.
Even though such digital torment seems to be growing in popularity, bullies will learn quickly that there is no such thing as true anonymity on the Internet. If you decide to take your harassment online, you will be caught. And, thanks to several high-profile cases, to paraphrase Apple, there's a law for that. [From: Wired and St. Louis Post Dispatch]
Sending any personal info or incriminating pictures to someone on Facebook is a huge mistake for many reasons. One of the worst possible outcomes is getting blackmailed for money, sex, or, well, anything these sickos dream up. Really, whether they're using a fake profile or not, it's a horrible idea. Read up on the story of an 18-year-old who blackmailed 31 male classmates after he posed as a girl and asked for nude pictures. That's lesson enough.
Sure, it can be harmless to impersonate a celeb online or create a fake profile for a movie character. But seriously, there's a definite line you shouldn't cross when pretending to be someone else and it can lead to dire consequences for you. Maybe it's not as extreme as the Moroccan man who was jailed for 43 days after creating a fake Facebook profile of a prince, but you never know. Just steer clear of it.
Social networking sites has been blamed for a lot of things, fairly and unfairly, but in our opinion, the worst offense has been their indirect involvement in suicides. Obviously, there are a lot of factors responsible in each case, but there does seem to be links between social networking and a rash of suicides, and obviously tehre's the case tragic of Megan Meier, who killed herself after a classmate's mom impersonated a teen boy and harassed her over Myspace.
We've reported on numerous incidents of people getting in trouble because of their online behavior. Now, people are becoming victims because of what they're doing on the Web too. In England, a man was convicted of murdering his estranged wife after she changed her relationship status to "single." So, be careful of who can see your profile and what you're doing, no matter how harmless it seems.
Oh, you thought this only happened via poorly worded emails, right? WRONG. Once people got wise to their old ways, these con men are turning to social networking sites for new targets. This time, they're hacking into people's accounts and impersonating them to ask for money, usually with some weird sob story. You can check out a transcript of one of these conversations here.
Even if the law isn't on a case, a victim, his friends, or empathetic strangers might be. Since it's easy to get word out for anything online, people are using blogs, forums, and social networking sites to help track down criminals. In one such case, a vehicle thief was tracked down by a bunch of anonymous car enthusiasts after the victim posted his story on a forum. In the end, they identified the guy through his Facebook profile.