Blunt signs bill outlawing cyberbullying in Missouri

Monday, June 30, 2008 | 5:41 p.m. CDT; updated 12:20 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

O’FALLON — Long after Gov. Matt Blunt appeared at a St. Charles County library to sign into law a bill outlawing cyberbullying in Missouri, Tina Meier stood inside, counseling well-wishers about the dangers of the Internet.

“I hope I didn’t lecture too much, but it’s very important,” Meier, whose 13-year-old daughter’s suicide prompted the bill, told two teenage girls and their mother.

Blunt signed Senate Bill 818, which updates state laws against harassment to keep pace with technology by removing the requirement that the communication be either written or over the telephone. Supporters say the bill now covers harassment from computers, text messages and other electronic devices.

Megan Meier killed herself shortly after receiving mean-spirited messages over the Internet. The governor signed the bill at a library just a couple of miles from the neighborhood where Megan lived as Tina Meier, wearing a picture of her daughter in a pin on her dress, stood over his shoulder.

“Social networking sites and technology have opened a new door for criminals and bullies to prey on their victims, especially children,” Blunt said. “This new law will ensure that we have the protections and penalties needed to safeguard Missourians from Internet harassment.”

Although Megan died in October 2006, news of the tragic circumstances surfaced only after a local newspaper ran an article last fall. Since then, several Missouri towns have instituted new laws aimed at stopping cyberharassment. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., has introduced a bill that would impose federal penalties for cyberbullying.

The state measure came after a study by Blunt’s Internet Harassment Task Force.

Meier said that, although she was grateful , much more needs to be done to make sure children are kept safe.

“This is certainly not the end,” she said. “Bullying and cyberbullying is something that takes place every day. This is not just one case with Megan.”

Megan had long suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder. In 2006, she began corresponding with “Josh” through MySpace pages. At first, the messages were positive.

But after several weeks, they turned mean. One told Megan that “Josh” no longer wanted to be friends.

Shortly thereafter, Megan hanged herself in her bedroom. She died the next day.

There was no boy named Josh. Authorities said a neighbor, Lori Drew, her teenage daughter and an 18-year-old employee of Drew created a fake profile of an attractive teenage boy. The alleged purpose: to see what Megan was saying online about Drew’s daughter.

Lori Drew, 49, has pleaded not guilty in California, where MySpace is headquartered, to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization.

The Missouri measure requires school officials to tell police about harassment and stalking on school grounds. It also expands state laws against stalking to cover “credible threats” not only against the victim, but also family and household members and animals.

Currently, stalking is a misdemeanor, but the bill would let people be charged with a felony and face up to four years in prison if they stalk more than once, make “credible threats,” violate a court protection order and violate their probation or parole by stalking.

Meier has become a strong advocate of efforts to stop Internet harassment. She often speaks to schools and other groups. It, however, doesn’t erase the pain, she said.

“For me, Megan is still my baby,” Meier said. “It’s still hard. It touches my heart immensely to know the state of Missouri has worked so hard to honor my daughter and other families.”

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