Okay – now bear in mind that I have two young children myself (and I’m about as protective of them as you might expect for someone carrying around this particular online-nic), so I’m automatically going to be against any sort or level of ‘bullying’.
While being ‘Me’ means being personally more likely to ‘deal’ with anything of the sort myself – I can also understand the impulse of those people who are not ‘Me’ to wish for some institutional answer to the problem – the “There-Oughta’-Be-A-Law” reaction to injustice.
But the rub there is that that 'Law' would require the buy-in of your elected officials.
If there’s anything to be learned from the past 18 months or so, it’s that an alarming number of your elected representatives care FAR more about being ‘Elected Representatives’ than they do about YOU - the people they’ve been ‘Elected’ to ‘Represent’.
It’s not that they’re unaware of the topics you feel are important – they just consider those topics to be largely dismissible or otherwise subordinate when compared to their own agendas…
…except when those topics can be used as a screen to help further those agendas.
By now, everyone has heard of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old girl who was ‘CyberBullied’ until she finally committed suicide – it was, more than anything, a horrific example of grownups refusing to act as though they had any grown-up standards or expectations to live up to – If you’re not familiar with the story, go HERE.
While anyone who’s ever read or heard this story agrees that it is one of the more nightmarish things connected to internet-use-by-otherwise-seemingly-normal-kids, what follows here - and bears her name - seems to be one of two possible things:
- Either a shoddily-written bill that inadvertently lends itself to abuse,
- Or a larger-agenda piece of legislation that uses tragedy as a cover for its own advancement.
H.R. 1966: Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act
This is a surprisingly short Bill, light on explanation or definitions (which automatically makes me suspicious), so hitting all of it won’t be a big chore… that said;
To amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying.
Specifically, that’s Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 41 of the US Code – “Extortion and Threats” – to which “Cyberbullying” would be added as its own subsection.
Now, I don’t usually spend too much time on the findings – but in this case, they actually lend to the picture of the thin-veneer laid over the worst parts of the Bill language, so this time I’ll make an exception.
Section 2: Findings
Congress finds the following:
1)Four out of five of United States children aged 2 to 17 live in a home where either they or their parents access the Internet.
Not what you’d expect in a country “facing the worst economic crisis since the great depression’, but okay…
(2) Youth who create Internet content and use social networking sites are more likely to be targets of cyberbullying.
That’s a little like saying “Kids who play in the street are more likely to be hit by a car” – seems like more of a mood-setter than any sort of “Finding” a committee would have to “Research”..
(3) Electronic communications provide anonymity to the perpetrator and the potential for widespread public distribution, potentially making them severely dangerous and cruel to youth.
Okay – leaving aside that neither Lori Drew nor the UK Pentagon-Hacker would likely concur with the ‘provide anonymity’ part – take out all of the embellishment and this “Finding” is saying that “Electronic communications…” [are] “potentially…” “severely dangerous and cruel to youth”...
I’m afraid that I would have to contend that it is ‘cruel communications’ by people lacking a proper upbringing or sense decency are potentially dangerous to youth.
(4) Online victimizations are associated with emotional distress and other psychological problems, including depression.
This is another one like #2 – “victimizations are associated with emotional distress and other psychological problems” – another mood-setter “Finding”.
(5) Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm, including depression; negatively impact academic performance, safety, and the well-being of children in school; force children to change schools; and in some cases lead to extreme violent behavior, including murder and suicide.
Which sounds like ‘regular’ bullying – except you can hit the ‘off-switch’ to escape the ‘Cyber’ variety.
(6) Sixty percent of mental health professionals who responded to the Survey of Internet Mental Health Issues report having treated at least one patient with a problematic Internet experience in the previous five years; 54 percent of these clients were 18 years of age or younger.This one bothers me in a more subtle way – the “Survey of Internet Mental Health Issues” was taken by a group of psychiatrists and responded-to based on data gathered from existing patients.
...as in ‘people already being treated for overt mental-health issues’ – which, if you’re a looking for a mental-health related “Finding”, seems sort of like fishing in a stocked-pond.
Not to mention that, given the ‘stocked-pond’ conditions, that “60%” becomes rather less impressive or imposing – if this were a legislation-worthy crisis, wouldn’t you expect them to hit higher than “60%” among a sample-group of psychiatric patients?
But as we look at the section they’re proposing to include into the US Code, it becomes more likely that we’re looking at legislation that has a completely different purpose:
‘Sec. 881. Cyberbullying
‘(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
‘(b) As used in this section--
‘(1) the term ‘communication’ means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; and
‘(2) the term ‘electronic means’ means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.’.
(b) Clerical Amendment- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
I’m going to take this out-of-order, because I think that proper focus on the included definitions is important to really understanding the scope & breadth of this deceptively-short bit of proposed inclusion.
If the definition of “communication’ is:
- The electronic transmission of information of the user’s choosing
- between or among points specified by the user (thus being the User’s “audience”)
And if the definition of “electronic means” is:
- any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an “information service”.
And if “information service” includes – yet is apparently not expressly limited-to:
- “email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.”
Then this, as written, absolutely applies to... (wait for it)...
Television and Radio.
Notice also, that this language is completely devoid of definitions for “coerce”, “intimidate”, “harass”, “cause substantial emotional distress”, “severe”, “repeated” or “ hostile behavior”.
That being the case, if you have a Television show, Radio show or Blog that someone (ostensibly ‘someone in government’) finds to contain:
‘coercive’ (to compel to an act or choice),
‘harassing’(critical or mocking?),
‘repeated’ (critical or mocking?),
‘hostile behavior’ (critical or mocking?)
…that ‘causes substantial emotional distress’ (which I suppose could be more subjective…somehow)
Then You, as the creator/participant in that Television/Radio-show/Blog, would be subjected to fines, imprisonment or both.
Notice that there is no provision for anything like “except in the act of political discourse” in there.
But here - at the very beginning – is the part where they tip their hand as to the real intent of this Bill :
” Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication…”
So a Bill supposedly offered up as a “response” to the Megan Meier tragedy – wouldn’t have been applicable to her case, because that entire exchange occurred within the same neighborhood.
So this would only be applicable to ‘Cyberbullying’ that comes from out-of-state or a foreign country.
Like Fox news, if they’re being critical of the government…
Or Michael Savage, whose speech against the government, jihadists etc., has managed to get him banned from the UK.
Or like this blog – if you happen to be one of the congressmen sponsoring this Bill.
Go ahead and say I’m just being paranoid if you want, but it would have only taken the addition of a few short phrases to keep this from being so used, if that was not their intent.
Only a tiny bit of extra effort.
But they didn’t.