'Scary' MySpace precedent

Indicting a Missouri woman for cyberbullying sets a “scary precedent,” legal experts tell Wired.

In their eagerness to visit justice on a 49-year-old woman involved in the Megan Meier MySpace suicide tragedy, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are resorting to a novel and dangerous interpretation of a decades-old computer crime law — potentially making a felon out of anybody who violates the terms of service of any website, experts say.

“This is a novel and extreme reading of what [the law] prohibits,” says Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “To say that you’re violating a criminal law by registering to speak under a false name is highly problematic. It’s probably an unconstitutional reading of the statute.”

The hoax that led to a 13-year-old Megan’s suicide was despicable, especially since Lori Drew knew her daughter’s former friend suffered from clinical depression. But was it criminal?

Update: Michele Catalano agrees.

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  1. Forget the prosecution. The idea that anyone would take the concept of “cyberbullying” seriously is worse than frightening. The woman’s behavior was reprehensible, to say the least, but that girl had serious problems or she wouldn’t have killed herself.

    Has our society become so gutless and weak that we equate being called names with physical assault?

  2. Rightwingprof,

    You are on to something in your social commentary about cyberbullying generally, but in the Lori Drew case does seems to me that she ought to be considered guilty of something.

    What would have had to be true for her to have been guilty of emotional child abuse though, rather than some kind of computer crime? Drew was an adult person who was aware that she was dealing with a psychologically fragile middle schooler (she was aware she was being medicated) and she deliberately tricked her and did her harm. It actually went beyond just calling someone names. It was a pretty elaborate fraud that unfolded over weeks or months, if I remember correctly, involving building trust and then turning on her.

  3. KateCoe says:

    If that had been my kid, there wouldn’t be enough left of Lori Drew to charge. Cyberstalking and harassment are scary enough, but Drew knew the child in meat space, and had enough information to deliberately manipulate her and harm her. Drew’s also never shown remorse.

  4. Charles R. Williams says:

    Whatever the adult Lori Drew did could have been done by a real 16 year old boy in cahoots with a sister. And the consequences could have been the same. The real issue here is the failure of the girl’s parents to supervise her use of the internet.

    This is prosecutorial vigilantism since it is extremely unlikely that Lori Drew will be convicted of a crime.

    The truth is that we can harm each other with devastating consequences outside of the reach of the criminal law.

    There may be some basis here for a civil action although I doubt there is much to gain financially from suing.

  5. Right, Charles, but she is an adult which makes if fundamentally different than it being done by a 16 year old, if you ask me. Her culpability is different. You may be right that it’s too intrusive to criminalize really.

    Have you read about the case? You might be amazed at how closely her parents did supervise the girl’s internet use, unless you mean that they literally needed to stand over her shoulder every moment she was online, but that’s a pretty high standard. They knew her passwords; they gave her permission about when she could be online; they limited who had access to her profile. They gave “Josh” permission to talk to her based on the fraudulent efforts of Lori Drew. Is that something we should blame them for?

  6. Charles R. Williams says:

    No 13 year-old girl should be on myspace let alone a 13 year-old girl in treatment for depression.

  7. Charles-are you 109 years old? Who do you think is on MySpace?