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

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December052008

Lori Drew Convicted in Megan Meier Case

Last week, a jury in California convicted Lori Drew on misdemeanor charges related to the Megan Meier suicide case. Though public sentiment wanted to see her convicted specifically on Drew cyberbullying Meier into committing suicide, in the end she was found guilty of violating MySpace’s terms of service. Was justice served?

Sometimes when you reach a verdict in a trial you get closure out of it. This, probably, is not one of those cases. In what may be the most notorious case of its kind, the Missouri woman who was accused of using MySpace to drive a 13-year-old girl to suicide was founded guilty in a federal courtroom. She was facing both felony and misdemeanor counts, but the jury ruled in her favor on the felony counts, concluding there wasn’t enough evidence that Lori Drew intended to inflict such emotional distress that would lead Megan Meier to suicide. But she was convicted of the misdemeanor charges, which were more technical in nature – and controversial as well.

Drew was found guilty of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was created specifically to go after hackers who wreak havoc on computer servers. But in Lori Drew’s case, prosecutors successfully argued that she had illegally used MySpace’s servers by violating their terms of service, which doesn’t allow people to create fake accounts. Drew had used an account with the name Josh Evans; it claimed to be a local boy who was being homeschooled. But in creating the account, which used a false name and age, Drew broke MySpace’s terms of service agreement – that big batch of legal jargon that comes with a checkbox for you to click in order to establish your account.

Very few people would argue that what Drew did was anything less than reprehensible, and Megan’s family has big reasons for a lawsuit against her. But in the end, she was convicted of doing something that most of us have done at one point or another. A legal brief filed during the trial by a group of Internet law organizations noted that things such as not keeping your Facebook profile up-to-date or using Google if you’re under the age of 18 are both term-of-service violations technically similar to what Drew did. And I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve created an account on a new website with a fake birthday, simply because they haven’t earned my trust to use my private information. Yet that, too, is technically a terms-of-service violation.

Yesterday, I joined a reporter from Wired.com and talked about the case on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Some callers expressed concern with the potential slippery slope created by this conviction, but we also heard from many people who felt very strongly that Drew had committed some type of crime and had to be held to account. It’s really a lose-lose situation. Her conviction raises serious concerns about the same legal theory being applied to other Internet users, but a lack of conviction would have raised the collective disgust of parents everywhere.

Drew hasn’t been sentenced yet, so we don’t know for sure how an appeal might be handled, but definitely look for this case to continue to be debated. But was justice served? It all depends on your perspective. -andy

PS – On a related matter, I received an email yesterday from the online safety organization I-SAFE attempting to raise money on Drew’s conviction – and on Meier’s death as well. They talk about Meier’s suicide then pose a question: “Does your daughter, son, niece, nephew, or grandchild know what to do when confronted by a cyber bully? Megan Meier didn’t know. And, Megan’s mother didn’t know how to help her child!” It then goes on to tout their online safety curricula as the “solution” to this question and ask you for a donation. Did anyone else receive this email? What was your reaction to it? -ac

Filed under : People, Policy, Safety

Responses

Andy: the link to Talk of the Nation needs to be fixed. I found the actual audio and am listening now—so thanks! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97819135

Your statement that i-SAFE was attempting to raise money on Lori Drew’s conviction and Megan Meir’s death is a false allegation and defamatory. Cyber bullying is rampant on the Internet and the consequences are devastating. We (including you Mr. reporter) must do everything we can to teach children and teens (adults too it seems) about the disasterous consequences of cyber bullying and that they should NEVER engage this type of conduct and also how to deal with it effectively when it is encountered. i-SAFE uses all kinds of real-life ONLINE examples in its curricula (responsibly and age-appropriately) to educate millions of kids and teens about the risks and dangers online and how to be safe and responsible cyber citizens. If your employer doesn’t pay you a salary you can’t write and publish your work. The same is true for non-profit organizations like i-SAFE (it takes money to get our work out). Your allegation is not only outrageous but also small minded and mean spirited. Now that you have revealed mal-intent, I would not be surprized if you stooped so low as to acuse the NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN of using missing and murdered children to raise money from the U.S. Congress. What in the world are you thinking? You need to wash your mouth out with soap and then contemplate the virtue of those who dedicate their careers to making things BETTER for kids — and stop taking cheap POT SHOTS at them. Denny Shaw, Chief Operations Officer, i-SAFE Inc.

Denny Shaw:
I didn’t see any cheap shots, just questions that might lead to discussion. You read what you were motivated to read, perhaps proving the old Shakespeare adage of protesting too much, methinks.

Andy:
Thanks for the attempt to get people to think beyond their immortal prejudices. Good luck with that ;)

There’s nothing defamatory or mean-spirited about what I wrote. I have nothing personal against I-SAFE, and there are some very good people working there on a very important issue. But the phrasing and timing of their fundraising email still raises questions in my mind. Perhaps it doesn’t for you, so we can agree to disagree.

Here’s the full text of it, so people can judge for themselves. Please let me know if you think it was appropriate or not.

Dear Friend,

NEWS FLASH:
Last week, a jury in Los Angeles convicted Ms. Laurie Drew of three misdemeanor violations of the MySpace terms of service agreement, for which Drew can be fined up to $300,000 and imprisoned for up to 3 years. Ms. Drew, along with her daughter and another teenage girl, is the Missouri mom who participated in an Internet hoax where she helped create a fake MySpace profile of a fictitious 16-year old boy named “Josh.” “Josh” (i.e., Ms. Drew and the two other teen girls) then carried on an Internet relationship with Megan Meier, a 13-year old neighbor and schoolmate of Drew’s daughter. Megan killed herself when “Josh” ended the relationship and told Megan she was better off dead. While Ms. Drew was not convicted of cyber bullying that directly or indirectly caused Megan’s suicide, this is the first successfully prosecuted case in the U.S. associated with cyber bullying and its devastating consequences!

QUESTION:
Does your daughter, son, niece, nephew, or grandchild know what to do when confronted by a cyber bully? Megan Meier didn’t know. And, Megan’s mother didn’t know how to help her child!

SOLUTION:
i-SAFE’s comprehensive e-Safety curriculum has interactive age-appropriate cyber bullying/cyber citizenship lessons for students of all ages – from kindergarten through high school. i-SAFE’s dynamic e-Safety curriculum includes videos and enrichment activities that are updated continually.

MySpace, YouTube, iPods, and Xbox, for example, are what kids are doing these days; and we cover them in i-SAFE lessons, which make kids aware of online risks and dangers and how to respond to them safely and responsibly.

As parents, educators, corporate and civic leaders, and ordinary citizens you are a member of the rapidly growing international cyber community. Everybody is online – wired and mobile – virtually non-stop (perhaps children more so than adults). And, by now we should realize the inadequacy and futility of merely saying “no” or “stop that” to cyber savvy Internet dependent children. We have to go beyond “no” and ensure our children know how to recognize the risks and dangers online and act and react appropriately in all situations. And, the way to teach them these things is through i-SAFE!

i-SAFE is continuing its decade-long commitment to providing kids and teens the best quality and most comprehensive e-Safety education through empowerment. Our goal is to be in every school in America, as well as expanding our reach overseas to bring in-depth e-Safety education to students in many other countries around the world.

However, i-SAFE annually needs a baseline of funding support to create, update and distribute its interactive e-Safety lessons and innovative enrichment activities, to produce cutting-edge videos and to teach millions of students and train tens of thousands of teachers.Government funding support to i-SAFE has dwindled to almost nothing and YET we still need to get i-SAFE’s educational resources and professional development training to our nation’s K-12 schools at NO COST to them.

This special e-mail is going out to all of i-SAFE’s friends, supporters and partners. Each of you, together, can help us raise the funds needed to be successful even in an environment of Mideast wars, budget cuts and financial sector meltdowns. You can join our global “Just ONE Click Campaign” that will turn each modest tax deductible donation of $5, $10, $20 (or more) into a million dollars for our nation’s 54 million K-12 students. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

When you contribute, you’ll become an INVESTOR in the online safety of our children. You know the POWER OF ONE! So, join the Just ONE Click Campaign and make our kids worth a million!

Thank you for being a friend of i-SAFE.

I tend to see this note as a fund raising effort. That said I think that i-Safe needs to reexamine the case they are using. The emotions of the Drew/Meier event are presented as a cyber bully issue. The legal reality is the case had nothing to do with bullying. While not a lawyer I am hoping that the law and common sense will vacate this conviction. The action was baseless in that Terms of Service have apparently been enacted into the FEDERAL criminal code. With out a single step taken by Congress or signed into law by the President? Interesting. While I have followed this case somewhat closely I have not read every ine of the messaging between Megan and Drew, daughter, and employee. But I believe I read that the only negative remarks from them supposedly occurred with the last one. All others were supportive and nice. So I am not sure a single message rises to bullying. Beyond that Tina Meier allowed and in fact encouraged her daughter to violate those same terms of service since she was underage at the time she signed on. Parents have responsibilites as well.

About i-SAFE; I’m a teacher, and all I can say is that I hope it is more effective than the anti-bullying program my school uses. The students laugh at the techniques the counselor offers.

My heart truly goes out to Megan Meier’s family. I am sure her family needs to feel some sense of justice, but I doubt they ever will. As you wrote, it is such a slippery slope. Anyone who has ever sent an unkind text or email can ‘t be prosecuted. Hopefully, though, people who have followed this case will think twice about writing something they know they would never say to a person face-to-face. People can be quite “bold” when they are hidden in a cloak of anonymity.

I personally think Lori Drew should be incarcerated for acting as a predator. Even if she didn’t physically type the messages, she orchestrated this cruel scenario against a CHILD. Lori Drew knew that Megan was mentally fragile, and she took advantage of that vulnerablity in order to hurt her for “messing with” her daughter. Did she want or expect Megan to kill herself? Maybe not, but as an ADULT and a mother, she had to consider for a split second how damaging her actions could be.

This case shows how far the human race has fallen from the garden of Eden. I do not believe in the death penalty, but Lori Drew should be imprisoned forever in a hole with only bread and water.

Hi,
I saw them for fund raising.But i don’t think so to punish them for their kind work.But in this World no one can bear the success of others.My heart truly goes out to Megan Meier’s family. I am sure her family needs to feel some sense of justice.

this fake accounts has to stop along with the hacking had to spend 200 dollars to get fixed something i didnt do its not fair and not fair that girl had to die so young :( fake account shouldnt be allowed on any site u must have a picture monitor facebook myspace every site

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