Until a few days ago, not many people over the age of fifteen had heard of Jessi Slaughter (an alias). An eleven-year-old girl who frequently posted videos of herself engaging in colorful rants, Jessi was a bit of a celebrity among tweens on the Internet. After someone posted on a tween website, claiming she was involved with the lead singer of an emo band, Jessi responded with a video, retaliating against her “haters.” People posted the video on Tumblr and other sites, and the cyber threats began. But the attacks didn’t stop there.

People began spreading Jessi’s personal information on the Web — her real name, phone number, address, and links to her Facebook and MySpace accounts. People prank-called her, spammed her social networking accounts, and had pizzas delivered to her home address. Then, in a bizarre turn of events, Jessi’s father filmed Jessi in tears, on the verge of a breakdown, while he screamed in the background and threatened those who had attacked his daughter. The video went viral last Thursday, and the terrorization, including supposed death threats, continues. Jessi was placed under police protection, and the local authorities are investigating the video. Child protective services may also have gotten involved, as well they should. The same people threatening Jessi have even spammed Gawker.com bloggers who covered the story. But no one has discussed the legal ramifications.

Jessi may be partly to blame for initially posting her own videos. Some would argue, if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it. But come on, she’s eleven, and it’s (theoretically) a free country — she should be able to say what she wants without being harassed at her home. Who knows why she and her father filmed that scene, but they did and everyone has seen it, so where do we go from here (assuming this entire saga isn’t a hoax)?

If one can track the phone calls and Internet attacks, Jessi and her family likely have valid claims alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). These threats arguably rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct — conduct which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency as to be utterly intolerable in a civilized community. Although section 46 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts suggests that mere insults, indignities, and threats will not suffice, this behavior far exceeds mere insults or threats. The entire Internet knows where she lives — it doesn’t get much scarier than that. Jessi and her family also have colorable claims alleging defamation, depending on the contents of posts about them, and punitive damages could be awarded. Based on that video, Jessi Slaughter needs some help, and we all know therapy isn’t cheap.

S.

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