Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Vigilanteism Cyber Style

During the days of vigilanteism in Montana it was not to be taken lightly. The participants were so effective the Sate Police honored them by having their motto emblazoned on their badge. 3-7-77 - 3 feet wide, 7 feet deep and 77 inches long - for the graves of those they hung. Swift and sure if not always just.

Let us hope we frequenters of the Internet are not following in their footsteps though it seems we may be. I wrote not long ago of the tragic results of cyber stalking and bullying done by adults to a 13 year old child. A bogus account was set up on MySpace by the parent of a teen to learn what another was "saying" about her daughter. They were even neighbors. The "creation" was a sweet talking boy friend who turned nasty and cruel. The end result for the impressionable insecure young girl was suicide. No crime, however, had been committed. I cannot disagree that a suicide comes from a variety or reasons; but this action certainly added to the child's duress.

I called for the tightening of the laws. As ugly as that story was, it seems to be getting worse.

Now self appointed avengers are after the perpetrator. According to an editorial by Barbara Shelly of the Kansas City Star, these folks have published the name, address, phone numbers and photos of the accused family. They have fled their home, their daughter is living away from them for her own safety; they've had to close their business.

Part of me wants to cheer them. The despicable behavior of that "mother" deserves something more than a pass! But not this.

It opens the door to frightening prospects. It too is cyber bullying and stalking. As the column points out they have reduced themselves to the same level. It also signals to any crack pot out there that has a grievance against any one of us they have carte blanch to go after us.

Internet regulation will come sooner than later if this escalates. The article urges parents to protect their children from "fantasy lives" by getting involved in their real one.

The same might apply to we adults too, though most of the bloggers I know also have real lives and live them quite fully. That is not necessarily protection against those "out there" who would do us harm. I reiterate it is why many of us choose near or complete anonymity.

For you state legislators who are out and about looking for fodder for upcoming sessions - enforceble laws against cyber stalking and bullying might be worthy.


Camellia Underhill said...

Of course, you are correct. But I feel that the law let the victim down. Something that seems to be happening more and more. While the moral part of my compass is appalled at this turn of events, another part of me says, way to go vigilantes. Many segments of world culture turns to shunning as a punishment. As long as physical threat plays no part, shunning is an acceptable punishment. The "mother" in this case deserves retribution and when the law refused to take any action, the horror at her behavior took this avenue. As inconceivable as her behavior is to us, the fact that she "got away" with it, is equally horrifying. Stalking is stalking. No matter the medium, the state stalking laws should prevail. We cannot say that one form is okay and another not. This woman should have been prosecuted under the state stalking law. As much as I abhor the method, I must admit to a certain satisfaction at this turn of events. Perhaps it will save another child from torture. Our laws must be written to honor the victim, not protect the perpetrator.

raymond pert said...

I haven't read one single word regarding this story that I take satisfaction in. It's been wrong at every turn.

I don't know when or if the cycle of cruelty in this case will end.

Like you, I've been thinking about this situation a lot.

Unlike you, I can't imagine an effective, enforceable law to address this problem.

When you wrote your last paragraph, did you have wording for a statute in mind?

I'm eager to read it if you do.

Maybe you can help me get unstuck from feeling so stumped.

Dogwalkmusings said...

Mr. Pert,

You have me stumped. However, with stalking and bullying becoming the problem it seems to be, whatever is brought forward needs to be all inclusive and have some teeth in it. It is not just a cyber problem but seems to be a nebulous area where one can easily hide.

Camellia Underhill said...

Good point from Raymond. In order for a law to be "effective", obviously there must be a way to enforce said law. Every server has an IP identification. Now that, as I understand it, doesn't actually identify the poster. But where a crime appears to have been perpetrated, I believe that IP can lead to the individual. But....just to the person paying the bills, not necessarily the person committing the crime. So what we have here is, on the face of it, a very difficult situation vis a vis true identification. But not impossible. Still, a cyber stalking statute of some kind on the books, would enable law enforcement to at least identify the person responsible for the computer. Very likely, that would narrow the search to the point where good investigative techniques would do the rest. But how does that statute read? Just off the top at this moment, it should state and qualify harrassment. ie:threatening, continuous vulgarity, number of occurrances, which would addresses the state of mind rendered to the stalkee. Does the communication rise to the level of instilling fear in the recipient. Can it equate to mind control (as I believe it did in this situation). Actions that any normal reasonable person would identify as leading to deleterious consequences. Unfortunately, these things must be spelled out when enacting law. It would be convoluted. Better that, than not at all. I probably could give a clearer example. In the case we are discussing, the mother acting as the "boyfriend", first made up to the girl. Was kind and complimentary. Then became increasingly unkind and nasty. Ending with the comment that the world would be better off if Megan was dead. And the child acted on that. A reasonable person would, at least, consider that such a statement could bring such tragic results. Therefore, this woman was leading Megan down a path that, at the very least, was emotionally damaging. This was her intent. And thereby hangs the legality. Intent. One cannot prove that the intent was for the girl to commit suicide. But, clearly, the intent was to do emotional damage. Pretty much the status for all laws, lays in that one little word. The difference between murder one, murder two and manslaughter, comes down to intent. Harm was intended for this child and it was instigated and carried out by an adult. Had a stalking statute been available, justice might have prevailed.
And the cyber world isn't as nebulous as one might think.

stebbijo said...

How about harrasment? We have laws against that.

raymond pert said...

Just a note to say I'm following this thread with keen interest. I'm grateful for camellia underhill's writing on this. I'm smart enough about laws and law enforcement to respond intelligently, except to say this situation and the ideas expressed here are alive in my thoughts.

I always enjoy stebbijo's perspective. I'm glad she weighed in here.

Camellia Underhill said...

I also have been thinking about this. And, what we have left out of the equation, is the psychopathy of a stalker. A stalker, by his/her very nature, wants his victim to know who he is. Generally there exists an obsession on the part of the stalker. He wants something from the stalkee and being identified is paramount in reaching that goal. It is common practice for the stalker to park in front of the home or business of the intended. While I am not a psychiatrist, I would assume that a cyber stalker, in the pure sense, would identify to the victim. Which would solve the problem of identification and enforcement. But in the case being discussed here, on reflection, it really wasn't stalking. It was a thought out plan of attack. Step by step, the woman inserted the "boyfirend" in to this childs life. Having done this, the next step was to destroy her emotionally. Her intent was to cause great emotional harm...chilling! I am not familiar with the laws of the state involved. However, I do believe that the family of the victim clearly have a basis for a civil tort. But, again, it was not stalking in the true definition of that word. Government is always re-active, not pro-active. It is time for the legal side of society to catch up with the electronic/cyber side. The sooner, the better.

stebbijo said...

Thanks raymond!

I fear in Idaho if we start to make more laws concerning cyber crimes ect.they will botch them. I don't think we have much in the way of smarts in that department with our lawmakers and at times I wonder about the professional sector - prosecuters, lawyers, ect.ect. I wonder if they could even enforce them. We do have a harassment law "...victim of malicious harassment for
both special and general damages, including but not limited to damages for emotional distress, reasonable attorney fees and costs, and punitive damages."

It really comes down to proving a cyber crime. It seems that the common computer user is going to have to learn to turn on audit trails and track IP addresses once they appear to be a target as well as have the money to investigate.