[an error occurred while processing this directive]

learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
May152008

Indictments Handed Down in the Megan Meier Case

This afternoon, a federal grand jury indicted Lori Drew, the woman at the heart of the Megan Meier tragedy. The indictment is a major turning point in the cyberbullying suicide case that shocked the nation.

To recap what happened: 16-year-old Megan Meier of suburban St. Louis thought she was befriending a local boy over MySpace. They formed an online friendship and corresponded frequently. As it turned out, the boy was actually a fake MySpace account created by a local woman named Lori Drew and a friend of hers, to see what they could learn about Meier’s friendship with her daughter. Eventually, they used the account to break up the online relationship, dismissing Meier in an extremely cruel way. Soon afterwards, Meier hanged herself.

It took a while for word to get out about the incident, but when it did last fall, people across the country began calling for criminal charges against Lori Drew. A local DA investigated but concluded no state laws were broken. Meanwhile, the feds got involved, and today they handed down indictments. According to the Associated Press, Drew has been charged with “one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on the girl.”

It’s unclear at the moment what protected computers they are referring to, but I would not be surprised if they are referencing MySpace’s servers. If that’s the case, it would be based on the notion that Drew and her friend violated the terms of service of MySpace to trick Meier into an online relationship that led to her death.

The trial, of course, will take some time to play out, and we’ll have to see how the jury responds to the case. Either way, the charges against Lori Drew potentially put every cyberbully on notice: if you use online networks to inflict distress and harm on someone, don’t be surprised if the long arm of the law reaches you. -andy

UPDATE, 5/19: Looks like I was right; the indictment is based on violating MySpace’s terms of service. According to an FBI press release:

To become a member of MySpace, individuals are required to submit registration information - including name and date of birth - and have to agree to certain terms of service that regulate their use of the Web site. Among other things, MySpace terms of service require prospective members to provide truthful and accurate registration information; to refrain from using any information obtained from MySpace services to harass, abuse or harm other people; to refrain from soliciting personal information from anyone under 18; to refrain from promoting information that they know is false or misleading; and to refrain from posting photographs of other people without their consent. The indictment alleges that Drew and her co-conspirators violated all of those provisions.

You can read the full press release on the FBI Los Angeles Bureau website. Drew’s trial will take place in LA. -ac

Filed under : People, Safety, Social Networking

Responses

Interesting Case. This application of the law to the TOS of MySpace has interesting implications for teachers who lie about their age to view student MySpace / Facebook profiles. Something like this happened recently at an exclusive NYC private school where teachers discovered slanderous material about colleagues posted by students in Facebook. The issue became whether the students should be disciplined for libelous material posted in the public forum of the Facebook network, or if the teachers had no business pretending to be students in order to gain access to that network.

Trevor, thanks for bringing up that issue. Let’s face it social networking is here to stay. It is not a fad that is going away any time soon. A real issue that needs to be brought up to teenagers and children who use Facebook or MySpace or any kind of social networking is that they are not alone when they use it, and they do not own it outright. They really believe that it is their exclusive, private playground, which we know is really not the case. They really believe that normal adults will not use and are not interested in social networking of any kind. We, as teachers, cannot model how to effectively use social networking to their advantage because in almost every school those Web sites are blocked. To me, this is the real digital divide or digital generation gap. As these new technologies become more widely by the general public, there will be many more cases like both presented here.

Susan,
You are so right about social networking being here to stay.You are also right about the kids not owning these sites and everyone can view what they do and say on there. That is why it is so important for parents to teach their children the importance of being safe and how to be safe.
I also feel that there should be more people hired to monitor these sites.
This case really disgusted me that a parent couldn’t let the kids work out their own issues instead of taking it upon herself to destroy a child.

I just wonder how these actions will sit when the law enforcement use under cover tactics [acting as children] as stings to convict pedaphiles on line. I hope pandora’s box is not opened allowing worse criminals to go free because of decisions in this case!

I think that you hit the nail on the head..anyone who acts in such an reckless manner should definitely be held accountable. Having taken a course last week centering on bullying I became much more aware of the cyber bullying that is going on. It is becoming rampant in our society and only when people are apprehended and punished will this phenomena begin to diminish.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]