Friday, May 16, 2008

'MySpace Suicide,' Cyberbullying, and the Law

Bullying, and cyberbullying may not be illegal, but some sorts of online abuse should be defined as a crime. America put laws on the books, making harassment illegal. I think the same could - and should - be done to discourage a repeat of what was done to Megan Meier.

"Woman indicted in Missouri MySpace suicide case"
The Associated Press (May 16, 2008)

"LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Missouri woman was indicted Thursday for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who committed suicide.

"Lori Drew, 49, of suburban St. Louis, who allegedly helped create a MySpace account in the name of someone who didn't exist to convince Megan Meier she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans, was charged with conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else's computer.

"Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006, allegedly after receiving a dozen or more cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her."

In this case, I'm with FBI agent Salvador Hernandez, quoted in the article. " 'The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses,' Hernandez said. 'Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions.' "

A common theme in discussions of the cyberbullying that led to Megan Meier's death is that there isn't any law against hounding a vulnerable teenager until she kills herself. I'm inclined to believe that. The information technology that makes online communities is new, and we've only begun to develop laws and customs to deal with the new reality.

I'm afraid that, when the dust settles, even the twenty-year-maximum sentence that someone said Lori Drew might get will seem trivial.

But, maybe this will encourage legislators to get off the dime, and define workable laws to protect people from predators like Lori Drew.

There is some good news in this mess. MySpace, a California-based company, says that it's cooperating with American authorities.


Brigid said...

Why on earth did she do that? The adult, that is. I mean, why target a young neighbor on an online community in such a vicious and eventually lethal manner? It's utterly and completely senseless.

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for your comment.

"Why...did she do that?"

For starters, it's not absolutely certain that Lori Drew did, in fact, mastermind the bullying of Megan Meier. However, given what's public knowledge, it's the only reasonable conclusion.

As to why she badgered a vulnerable teen to death? This is conjecture, and I can't know - or judge - what's going on in the woman's mind, but what we've read suggest that anger, pride, and quite possibly envy are at the root of her actions.

What's called "spite" can make people do very bad things.

As to "utterly and completely senseless" - That statement presupposes that Megan Meier had the same rights to exist as Lori Drew and her daughter.

I believe that is the case, but it would seem that Lori Drew did not.

Tormenting another person for personal revenge is 'sensible,' for those who believe that they are superior, or somehow 'special,' in relation to their victim.


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