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