Finally, a wake up call for cyber bullies
May 21, 2008
Alas, the long awaited but not surprising moment is upon us. As far as I'm concerned it's about time, too.
Finally, there are cyberspace cops among us. The free-for-all will hopefully, justly, cease to exist. Accountability is in order.
Last Wednesday, a grand jury indicted a Missouri woman regarding a Myspace hoax that allegedly prompted a 13-year-old girl to kill herself.
The woman, 49, a mom of a teenage daughter herself, allegedly created a bogus Myspace page to communicate with the poor 13-year-old—a neighbor who'd been friends with her daughter. According to published reports, the bogus identity was that of Josh Evans, a 16-year-old boy.
I imagine the keyboard conversations were just great until the non-existent 16-year-old, who was really a cruel, grown adult woman, started saying nasty things. Those nasty things just may have contributed to the self-induced death of a girl whose life had yet to even begin. The reality of it all is so horrible that it's absurd.
What's not absurd is that the woman who allegedly created the fake account is being held responsible for her mean-spirited, ill-conceived words that were NEVER anonymous though the cyberspace world lured her into believing she was. I don't even have to ask myself 'what was she thinking?' because I already know. She was not thinking anything good. She was thinking she could hurt someone—a little girl for Pete's sake!—and get away with it. Nothing good came of it. More stuff that's not good is on its way. That's what happens. That's the way things work in the universe, which, by the way, includes the Internet. It serves as a reminder that the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) does not apply indiscriminately (thank the forefathers or the gods for that!)
Another example of cyberspace policing came to light locally about a month or so ago. The example is entirely different from the foregoing scenario, but is yet another illustration about being held responsible (this one in the private sector) for postings on the Internet. The story—it was a front pager—involved an Imlay Twp. man who'd lost his 10 year contracting job at Chrysler because he'd used a company computer to post his opinion about the company's continued trend toward outsourcing under a pseudonym on a Detroit Free Press forum.
The story made our front page because it was one of a growing number of examples where blogging and/or commenting anonymously or under some other name on forums and whatnot is beginning to have consequences. In the Imlay Twp. man's case, while it's extremely unfortunate that he lost his job, the "why" of it is obvious. Aside from the fact that he posted Chrysler's CEO's email address from an internal company roster he did so on company time and on a company computer. He may have hung onto his job had he used his own computer and his own time, though it's doubtful because of the email address post. Still, his attorney would have at least had a leg to stand on should he decide to fight the termination or proceed with a wrongful discharge action. In any event, it is yet another example that the perceived anonymity of the Internet is just that: Perceived.
After working for a dozen or so years at two different law firms—the first of which had three offices in Michigan and one in Ohio— I learned that anything, and I mean anything that you put in writing has the potential to come back to haunt you. Somehow, for many people early on in their travels down the "Information Superhighway" this admonition got lost. I've read some incredibly ridiculous, slanderous, blatantly false, cruel, ill-intended assertions online that are meant to obscure, confuse, hurt, malign, bully or otherwise cause harm to some people, their families and their reputations. I will now enjoy—for lack of better word—sitting back and watching those who've been lulled into the false premise that they're anonymous slowly emerge into the spotlight and be held accountable. I'm counting on it. As the crow—or should I say raven—flies.
I didn't learn everything I know from attorneys, though. My aunt says, "speak your truth quietly," and thus I am reminded.
And just in case I keep really good records and take great notes. So far it has served me well, if not immediately. That's okay, though. My dad always said that patience is a virtue. And the universe continues to prove that what rolls around comes around, even over the Internet.
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