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