In a follow-up AP story, a panel formed by Missouri governor Matt Blunt is reported to have recommended "making certain types of harassment a felony, such as if anyone 21 or older harasses people 17 and younger."
Later in the same story:
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola University Law School, told The Associated Press that if the government convened a grand jury it would be trying to create a case in which MySpace would be the victim of a fraud — meaning the person who perpetrated the fraud could be prosecuted.
"The whole case is curious," she said, and could raise First Amendment issues of free speech.
The subject of "cyber bullying" received much coverage after the suicide. Legislative and policy responses to the threat (or perceived threat) of online bullying are probably inevitable, much as they have come from a concurrent flap about "traditional" playground bullying.
No one needs to remind us that teen suicide, for any reason, is tragic and probably represents some failure on the part of those within the young person's circle. In some ways we may all be responsible. But is the establishment of felony harassment statutes the proper remedy?
I'm the father of twin girls, aged 7. They visit http://www.pbskids.org/ and enjoy playing with Microsoft Paint but are probably not aware of anything else related to our home computer or the Internet. They do not yet have email addresses, although they will be given them at school next year and be expected to use them. Their slightly older cousins are well ahead of my kids and send me text messages from their cell phones. The future for mine will include these things---all our current electronic communication modes and more---and I'm sure I'll be fighting a losing battle against them all the way.
I'm obviously not a Luddite (although I have sympathies). And my general state of panic about being out of touch with my children will doubtless win out in the war against the cell phone and the email address. But will I want to see my kids on myspace.com? Will I want them chatting up strangers and swapping pics? Let's not go there for a while, ok?
As for Internet identities, I think the best we can say at present is that anonymity is too easy. It's the great pitfall of this medium. We are all (even when we use our own names and photos) somewhat fictional characters and largely free of responsibility for our actions online. It's something I'm going to have to explain to my girls one day soon.