Ask Joe Courtney – who defines “emotional distress” in Cyberbullying Prevention Act?

Continuing the government-has-to-do-something theme, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) along with 13 other Democrat House members have put forth H.R. 1966, the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. Cyberbullying certainly sucks, but how does the federal government intend to define causing “emotional distress?”

The bill (full text below) was submitted in April and and headed for the House Judiciary Committee. The real problem with this legislation is determining who would be responsible for defining substantial emotional distress.

I completely understand you should not be threatening people over the Internet or in person, but what if I went to the federal cops and complained about a Daily Kos writer causing me to loose sleep and increase my blood pressure to the point where thewriter was causing me substantial emotional distress?

So, for your homework, give Joe Courtney’s office a call – (202) 225-2076 – and politely ask him what federal agency would determine if a specific blog post, tweet, text message, social networking site, Facebook page, Internet article or e-mail, caused substantial emotional distress and defined as cyberbullying.

You can also contact Courtney via the Web if you are a resident of Connecticut’s 2nd district. Please mind your tone, you certainly would not want to cause emotional distress to a staffer.

Before you contact Courtney, do take a few minutes to read about the Megan Meier tragedy. It really is terrible what happened to Megan, but to make bullying or cyberbullying a federal offense is not the answer. Some may say Democrats in Congress will use this law to shut down opinion Web sites who disagree with the liberal/socialist/statist agenda. I’m not sure that will be proven out, but it certainly is a terrible proposal.

More details on the legislation can be found at

1st Session
H. R. 1966
To amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying.
April 2, 2009

Ms. LINDA T. SANCHEZ of California (for herself, Ms. KAPTUR, Mr. YARMUTH, Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD, Mrs. CAPPS, Mr. BISHOP of New York, Mr. BRALEY of Iowa, Mr. GRIJALVA, Mr. HARE, Mr. HIGGINS, Mr. CLAY, Mr. SARBANES, Mr. DAVIS of Illinois, Mr. COURTNEY, and Mr. KIRK) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

To amend title 18, United States Code, with respect to cyberbullying.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the ‘Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act’.

Congress finds the following:

(1) Four out of five of United States children aged 2 to 17 live in a home where either they or their parents access the Internet.

(2) Youth who create Internet content and use social networking sites are more likely to be targets of cyberbullying.

(3) Electronic communications provide anonymity to the perpetrator and the potential for widespread public distribution, potentially making them severely dangerous and cruel to youth.

(4) Online victimizations are associated with emotional distress and other psychological problems, including depression.

(5) Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm, including depression; negatively impact academic performance, safety, and the well-being of children in school; force children to change schools; and in some cases lead to extreme violent behavior, including murder and suicide.

(6) Sixty percent of mental health professionals who responded to the Survey of Internet Mental Health Issues report having treated at least one patient with a problematic Internet experience in the previous five years; 54 percent of these clients were 18 years of age or younger.


(a) In General- Chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

Sec. 881. Cyberbullying

(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

(b) As used in this section–

(1) the term ‘communication’ means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; and

(2) the term ‘electronic means’ means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.

(b) Clerical Amendment- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:

881. Cyberbullying.

Update: Ed at Hot Air picked up on this and some other “lock-up-your-opponents” legislation today.

6 replies
  1. skepticalcynic
    skepticalcynic says:

    Whether or not that hag who had nothing better to do but torment a little girl CAUSED her to kill herself, she should get jail time because she is a waste of oxygen.

  2. phil
    phil says:

    So, when Courtney, Dodd, et cetera, cause me emotional distress with their vapid "newsletters", I can have them arrested? 'Bout time!

  3. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    From a different perspective, it is a First Amendment issue. If the government can successfully control some aspects of freedom provided by the Constitution simply because it is on the internet, others will follow, and you can bet that interstate sales will be the next plum to grab, and the taxation opportunity that comes with it. They are trying to make the internet an exception to the rules, and then make new rules to govern (read it: tax) it.

    The only difference between the real and cyber versions of bullying is the anonymity provided by the internet. Conversely, you could provide the same level of anonymous torment, sans electrons, by smearing a "I'm gonna kill you" message in lipstick on a mirror, or death threats on a locker. What about an anonymous text message? Maybe a Twitter attack reminiscent of a bird attack in Hitchcock's "The Birds!" It is no different, but the idle hand pols want to make it different, like "hate crimes," which would require mind reading in many cases. When it is different, it will require regulation. And we know what that means.

    • skepticalcynic
      skepticalcynic says:

      Nice post, Dim.

      Some stories simply pull out emotions in me. To tell you the truth, I'd like to give that lady a choice. Don't want jail? Fine, 1 hour in a room with the girls parents, no holds barred. That woman, to me is a total waste of a human life. If I was that girls parent, eternal damnation is worth it sometimes.

      PS: To tell you the truth, bullying is hideous because you never know which person is being bullied is teetering on the edge of sanity.

      As O'Riley likes to say, that woman should be shamed for the rest of her hideous life.

      • Dimsdale
        Dimsdale says:

        The session with the parents sounds good to me. I would only add that it should be taped and put on YouTube as lesson to others. Cyber retaliation?

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