New state cyber-bullying law is put to use

Missouri prosecutors have used a new cyber harassment law to charge a 21-year-old St. Charles woman with misdemeanor harassment, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Nicole A. Williams is accused of sending harassing text messages to a 16-year-old girl and letting friends use her cell phone to leave threatening voice messages. Her case is one of at least seven involving adults in the St. Louis area filed since Missouri’s new cyber-bullying law took effect Aug. 28. Eighteen states now have laws targeting internet harassment and cyber-stalking, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In the fallout of the cyber-bullying case of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., teenager Megan Meier, legal experts say the long-term impact of such laws is just beginning to take shape. Williams’ lawyer, Michael Kielty, said she shouldn’t be punished for what others might have said or written using her cell phone. Missouri’s cyber-bullying law, Kielty says, is poorly defined and was passed hastily in response to the case of Meier, 13, who hanged herself in October 2006 after receiving hurtful messages over the social-networking web site "It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a high-profile case that was blown out of proportion," Kielty said. But Parry Aftab, a lawyer and executive director of, which Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, has joined to raise awareness of cyber bullying, says the new laws could have a dramatic effect on cyber-stalking cases nationwide. "Because of Megan’s case, people are paying attention," Aftab said. "The laws will make a difference once people understand that there are laws and once prosecutors start using them. We need to teach [people] that what you do online matters as much as what you do in real life, because the internet is real life now."

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