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Megan's Law: Mo. prosecutors using new cyberbullying laws

New state laws in the wake of Megan Meier's suicide are bringing more young people into the criminal justice system in Missori.

Call it Megan's Law. After Missouri officials declined to bring charges against Lori Drew for her role in the suicide of Megan Meier, legislators passed a cyber-bullying law. Now that law is being used to go after at least seven cases of obnoxious online behavior, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

In one case, Nicole Williams, 21, is being charged with harassing a 16-year-old girl by sending harassing text messages to her phone and letting friends use her phone to threaten her with rape, among other things. The harassment went real-world, too. They threw eggs and thumbtacks at her car, and dumped a can of beans on her car (they nicknamed her "Pork and Beans.")

Missouri's not alone. Eighteen states now have laws targeting Internet harassment and cyber-stalking, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For instance, Illinois has a new law, effective Jan. 1, that prohibiting a website with third-party access that contains "harassing statements made for the purpose of alarming, tormenting or terrorizing a specific person."

So, are these laws necessary in the aftermath of Megan's tragedy? Williams' lawyer, Michael Kielty, naturally says:

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to a high-profile case that was blown out of proportion.

But, considering the prosecutorial hoops federal lawyers were jumping through to win a misdemeanor conviction of Drew, and the outrageousness of the behavior, that's not at all clear.

Parry Aftab, a lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety.org, says:

Because of Megan's case, people are paying attention. 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.

The other Missouri cases:

  • Two men have been charged in separate cases in November of sending numerous text messages to their ex-girlfriends.
  • A man protesting a proposed resort was accused in September of sending a threatening e-mail to Wildwood City Hall.
  • A woman, 28, was accused in September of sending harassing text messages to her ex-husband's girlfriend.
  • A 19-year-old Belleville man sent at least 17 text messages to his mother's husband.
  • prosecutors in October charged a 17-year-old from Cedar Hill with writing death threats in text messages to a classmate stemming from a dispute over a girl.

Perhaps cyberbullying is such a part of youth life that such laws qualify as nanny laws. As applied to teens, Justin Patchin, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-author of "Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard," doubted the laws would carry much weight. But in cases like Lori Drew's -- a middle-aged woman bullying a teen – there's no doubt that state laws should exist to prosecute such abuse.