Reporters often put a lurid spin on news stories, trying to hype the drama. But this one seems to throw them for a loss. The girl committed suicide. One story reported she had been “teased” on the internet. Another said that she had been sent “several mean messages.” Mean? Teased? It is as if the truth is too much to state straight out.
A young Missouri girl with a history of psychological problems and suicidal tendencies, a child afflicted with a learning disorder, found a wonderful friend on the internet. A boy told her nice things about herself, even indicating a romantic interest. She poured out her deepest thoughts and desires. She gave her trust to this new and dear friend.
But the boy suddenly turned on her, telling her the world would be better off without her. So she followed his implicit advice and hanged herself. She was barely a teenager, a troubled 13 year old.
Who was this boy, cruel even by teenage standards? He did not exist. The boy had been fictional. Allegedly, it was a neighborhood girl, a rival of sorts in school, and the neighborhood girl’s mother.
Her mother? Yeah, Her mother.
The idea that an adult could help engineer this sort of heartbreak, this lethal torment, has enraged most folks who are even passingly familiar with the case. No local law has been found by prosecutors that would apply to the irresponsible woman. Federal authorities are said to be looking at interstate implications, and authorities in California, where the site is located, say they have applicable laws under which they will prosecute.
This troubles some free speech advocates, who see jurisdiction shopping at work. Also troublesome to some is an effort by Missouri legislators to pass some law to cover future cases. Once we start marching down the path of outlawing one type of unpopular speech, who knows what will follow?
Such concerns are legitimate and should be considered. But laws do, in fact, vary by jurisdiction. And the California case appears to be enough to pursue. Civil rights cases of the past provide precedent to acting at a federal level. Free speech is not absolute. Surely Missouri can devise a future clear legal distinction between unpopular political speech, which must be protected, and the actions of a smirking adult driving a young girl over the edge.
The thrust of the case for action is this: There ought to be a law.
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