Thursday, May 15, 2008

I have some reservations about this...

Mom indicted in MySpace suicide case
Computer charges against woman whose daughter feuded with victim

updated 2:49 p.m. PT, Thurs., May. 15, 2008
LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a Missouri woman for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who committed suicide.

Interesting. If she really is guilty, then I think that she should suffer some unpleasant consequences, at a minimum.

Lori Drew of suburban St. Louis allegedly helped create a false-identity MySpace account to contact Megan Meier, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Josh didn't exist.

Sock puppeteers everywhere, take note.

Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006 after receiving cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her.

Seems like an overreaction. It would be true of the people I might be tempted to utter such things about, but then I don't pick on teenage girls. I save it for the loathsome and offensive and criminally stupid.

Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, called the case heart-rending.

Dead children usually are.

"The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses," Hernandez said. "Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions."

An interesting concept. The eggshell rule for internet communications? That runs the risk of making something actionable that might otherwise be said in person. I think there are some valid First Amendment concerns here, and any court consider this should tread very very carefully. And if they are successful, I want the damn spammers in Bourkina Faso who keep sending me their scam emails to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

She's denied sending messages
Drew was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl.

Doesn't sound like serious jail time if convicted. Just enough to put a felony on her record.

Drew has denied creating the account or sending messages to Megan.

And she would if she were my client, too.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case. It has been used in the past to address hacking.

On the one hand, I admire the cleverness of the prosecutors who find new applications of existing laws, but then I also remember that this carries novel implications for those who never intended to violate them. RICO comes to mind, as does most sexual harassment legislation.

"This was a tragedy that did not have to happen," O'Brien said.

No. It didn't.

Both the girl and MySpace are named as victims in the case, he said.

MySpace because it gives the prosecutors a justiciable controversy, perhaps?

MySpace is a subsidiary of Beverly Hills-based Fox Interactive Media Inc., which is owned by News Corp. The indictment noted that MySpace computer servers are located in Los Angeles County.

Thus giving jurisdiction to California. Read your Terms of Service, people. Pencil-pushers like myself write these with specific intents in mind.

Due to juvenile privacy rules, the U.S. attorney's office said, the indictment refers to the girl as M.T.M.

Thus showing that NOTHING is stronger than bureaucratic rules. It isn't like no one knows the girl's name at this point.

FBI agents in St. Louis and Los Angeles investigated the case, Hernandez said.

Internecine turf wars. Gotta love it.

Each of the four counts carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison. Drew will be arraigned in St. Louis and then moved to Los Angeles for trial.

If convicted, my prediction is that she serves a year. Maximum.

Citing terms of MySpace service
The indictment says MySpace members agree to abide by terms of service that include, among other things, not promoting information they know to be false or misleading; soliciting personal information from anyone under age 18 and not using information gathered from the Web site to "harass, abuse or harm other people."

This is where it gets hinky. If this kind of language is the basis for these kinds of charges, then the next time you get into a flame war with a leftie who is determined to shout you down because he can't win an argument on the merits, then you may find yourself guilty of harassment or abuse of one of these poor widdle flowers. Don't scoff. I see some chilliness ahead. Lefties and fundamentalist muslims tend to be threatened by the truth, and find it very abusive and harmful. These are the same people who run to the courts whenever anyone has the temerity to offend their nuanced beliefs with truth and fact.

Drew and others who were not named conspired to violate the service terms from about September 2006 to mid-October that year, according to the indictment. It alleges they registered as a MySpace member under a phony name and used the account to obtain information on the girl.

Sock puppets and cyber stalkers beware: Here there be monsters.

Drew and her co conspirators "used the information obtained over the MySpace computer system to torment, harass, humiliate, and embarrass the juvenile MySpace member," the indictment charged.

If the indictment didn't charge that, then a 1L could get the case dismissed, but thanks for the newsflash, Sparky.

After the girl killed herself, Drew and the others deleted the information for the account, the indictment said.

See immediately proceeding comment.

Last month, an employee of Drew, 19-year-old Ashley Grills, told ABC's "Good Morning America" she created the false MySpace profile but Drew wrote some of the messages to Megan.

Otherwise known as an admission against interest and an attempt to throw the co conspirator under the bus. No honor in crime any more.

A joke taken too far
Grills said Drew suggested talking to Megan via the Internet to find out what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter, who was a former friend.

Why did Mom care so much? Didn't she have a life of her own? Well, I guess that is one problem solved.

Grills also said she wrote the message to Megan about the world being a better place without her. The message was supposed to end the online relationship with "Josh" because Grills felt the joke had gone too far.

Stupid and cruel, but criminally so?

"I was trying to get her angry so she would leave him alone and I could get rid of the whole MySpace," Grills told the morning show.

Well, that is one explanation. I'm sure the prosecutor will have another.

Megan's death was investigated by Missouri authorities, but no state charges were filed because no laws appeared to apply to the case.

And while sad, I think that there may be a good reason for that. If you have to strain existing law to adapt it to meet a specific circumstance, then maybe you should very carefully consider what you are doing. Maybe, instead of opening Pandora's Box with respect to speech on the internet, you should let karma take its course. As I recall, Drew's family had to move, and I'm sure she is unemployable. Sometimes bad conduct carries all sorts of long-running consequences.