Aug 23, 2009

In England, They Jail CyberBullies [Cyberbullying]

England's now prosecuting vile teenage asshats torturing peers on social networking sites. The first one? Meet Keeley Houghton, who's going to Britain's version of Juvie for three months, after harassing contemporaries on Facebook. Who is she and what'd she do?

Houghton, who was also given a five-year restraining order in which she can't see, contact, or even speak about her victim on social networking sites after her detention, sounds like your typical teenage asshole. She started harassing Emily Moore when they were both 14 at school, and continued as time went on. Things got worse after Houghton got on Facebook. The breaking point came when Houghton actually threatened to kill Moore, via her status update:

"Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a f***ing liberty. Emily F***head Moore."

When authorities questioned her about it, she used the old "I was drunk" excuse. Turns out she wrote it at 4PM, and the status stayed up for 24 hours. Cut to the court scene, when we learn about the character of Houghton, now 18, who showed up to an expected sentencing of community service for the story's unexpected denouement:

Cocky Houghton arrived at court laughing and chatting with about a dozen male and female supporters. But there were gasps and tears from the gaggle when she was sentenced. Unemployed Houghton sobbed as she was taken away to spend three months in a young offenders' institution after admitting harassment.

Even better is the fire-and-brimstone Houghton's sentencing judge, Bruce Morgan, gave her:

"Since Emily Moore was 14 you have waged compelling threats and violent abuse towards her. Bullies are, by their nature, cowards - in school and society. The evil, odious effects of being bullied stay with you for life. On this day you did an act of gratuitous nastiness to satisfy your own twisted nature."

Basically, yes. In the history of precedent for this kind of thing, this is what comes after Elizabeth Thrasher, who was the first person charged with harassment on the internet under a law passed after the Lori Drew incident, in which the mother of a bully caused the suicide of fellow teenager Megan Meier. Thrasher was charged, Drew was indicted, and then had her verdict overturned. Whether or not Houghton will have to serve out her entire sentence is worth wondering. How hard will countries invested in policing things like this enforce these kinds of offenses against others?

Even murkier is the question of what constitutes harassment, which will continue to be cloudy for a while. Is it punishable if you @ someone something terrible on Twitter? Or reblog someone on Tumblr? Or write on a blog?

If anything's clearing up, though, it's the intent of judicial systems who're no longer standing idly by complaints and allegations of this kind of thing. They're going to continue to set precedence in order to define the new frontier of harassment - and the legality of certain communications - from here on out.

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