The MySpace Mom Skates, While The Teen Hangs? No Justice There!

Not to get all soapbox-ey, but since we’ve been talking about digital ethics and online immersive behavior a lot lately, I’ve gotta toss this one out there…

Yesterday’s MediaPost update on the case of the jilted 13-year old MySpace teen (Megan Meier, at left) who hung herself due to a misguided mom masquerading as online beau Josh Evans (who never even existed) gives me that sorrowful ‘pit in the stomach’ hollowness of ‘Hey, it ain’t right, even if it’s legal.’

The Simple Justice blog has a great recap citing the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the Washington Post, and pro bono efforts to dismiss the Lori Drew indictment of Computer Fraud & Abuse, based on failure to state an offense, vagueness and unconstitutional delegation of prosecutorial power.

I guess I have a touch of Clint Eastwood “make my day” retro vibe in me, because it just seems the legal beagles continue to protect the guilty rather than the innocent by defending kooky-meddlin’-moms like Lori Drew who will no doubt skate by on techno- technicalities, sans justice.

Wendy Davis’ MediaPost article may argue a logical point of justice by saying, “While the incident was an undeniable tragedy — perhaps the best-known of the Web 2.0 era — that doesn’t make it a crime. In fact, when state authorities in Missouri investigated, they couldn’t find any statute they could charge Drew with having violated.” But…er…um, news flash, darlins’…

MOST of the new media crimes being committed these days DEFY statutes because the ‘notice of proposed rulemaking’ (NPRMs) are not even on the books yet, OR have loopholes out the wazoo if they do…

That doesn’t make ‘em any less ‘wrong.’

The dang FCC and FTC can’t even keep up with themselves, much less Rewrite the Rules for Kids Media, advocate for consumers on behalf of the public good, update the Children’s Television Act, or deal with VoIP nuances, social media data sharing on Facebook, digital monopolies and privacy law, paid marketer infiltration (19%!) to mainstream news media, (both traditional print payola AND broadcast news product placement) and ruler-whack some nutso ‘mommy dearest’ type purposely tormenting a teen for grins!

Death by cyberbullying is not exactly an ‘oopsie,’ as it’s malicious intent by its very nature.

The MediaPost piece goes on to say,

“Yes, it’s bizarre for an adult to enable teens to engage in this type of behavior. But using a fake name — or, for that matter, making mean statements — is typically protected under the First Amendment. And if Lori Drew is prosecuted for such activity, many, many other Web users are also at risk of criminal charges.”

Um…”to enable teens?” Let’s try…’assuming the role of teen.’

First Amendment protection? Sigh. That’s the whole “Hate crimes vs. free speech” issue all over again.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty dang sick of folks trotting out their ‘right to abuse’ under the guise of ‘free speech.’

Deplorable actions continue to be defended under cowardly legal technicalities, which makes that ol’ classic Shakespeare quote come to mind.

As for those “many, many other web users at risk of criminal charges?”

Gosh, maybe there wouldn’t BE so ‘many, many’ if there were some teeth in cyberbullying laws beyond a wrist-slap!

After all, digital fingerprints are so sophisticated and traceable these days, hefty consequences could make the point quickly and fast. (think ‘digital H-bomb’)

Okay, getting a wee bit testy and sardonic here, and will no doubt be accused of scapegoating this Missouri mom, or wanting to toss her in the clink to think about her ethics and attitudes. Not saying that would solve beans, just saying that strategic malice sans punitive outcomes is reprehensible to me.

How can we teach kids the concept of ‘lessons learned’ when there’s no consequence tied to mistakes? What are we supposed to do with ‘adults behaving badly’ give them a ‘timeout?’ Finger wag and scold them?

As Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use said, “When emotionally vulnerable young people get online, they can be very easily manipulated.” Yep. And when adults are the ‘perps’ in ANY abusive circumstance mining the vulnerabilities of youth, I say ‘thrown the book at ’em.’

It’s our job in the child advocacy sphere to protect the physical and emotional well-being of children, and we’re failing Megan Meier if we let sociopathic behaviors from adults like Lori Drew sashay off unscathed.

To quote anti-shrink/academic Thomas Szaszol,

“Punishment is now unfashionable… because it creates moral distinctions among men, which, to the democratic mind, are odious. We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility.”

What do you think? Am I being too ‘wild west’ on the new digital frontier?

Too ‘Dirty Harry?’ Too ‘Unforgiven?’

Are motions to dismiss based on lousy computer crime law admissible as evidence, counselor?

What say you, readers?

404

Comments

  1. Evidently, some people are having trouble logging into the MediaPost site (due to sub/wall) so here’s the mini-post/editorial of Wendy’s yesterday:

    “Digital Rights Groups Fight Criminal Fraud Case
    Posted August 4th, 2008 by Wendy Davis

    A coalition of law professors and digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking a judge to dismiss the case against Lori Drew, the Missouri resident facing criminal computer fraud charges related to the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.

    Drew allegedly helped set in motion the chain of events that culminated with Meier’s suicide by creating an account for a fictional teen boy, “Josh Evans.” Other teens then allegedly used that account to torment Megan Meier, first by pretending that Josh Evans was interested in her, and then by having him reject her. After the teen received a message that “the world would be a better place” without her, she hanged herself.

    While the incident was an undeniable tragedy – perhaps the best-known of the Web 2.0 era – that doesn’t make it a crime. In fact, when state authorities in Missouri investigated, they couldn’t find any statute they could charge Drew with having violated.

    But that didn’t stop the feds from swooping in and drafting an indictment accusing Drew of computer fraud for violating the fine print in MySpace’s terms of service by supposedly creating a profile with a phony name.

    Now, anyone who has ever used the Web should know there’s a problem with that theory. It shouldn’t take a private detective to figure out that people often create Web pages or sign up for sites under pseudonyms. Neither should it take some sort of super-sleuthing skills to realize that people make hurtful comments online, often under fake names.

    “This effort to stretch the computer crime law in order to punish defendant Drew for Miss Meier’s death would convert millions of other internet-using Americans who disregard the terms of service associated with online services into federal criminals,” the digital rights groups and law professors point out.

    Yes, it’s bizarre for an adult to enable teens to engage in this type of behavior. But using a fake name – or, for that matter, making mean statements – is typically protected under the First Amendment. And if Lori Drew is prosecuted for such activity, many, many other Web users are also at risk of criminal charges.”

  2. Legal update and reflective conversation here on danah boyd’s blog…comments are equally intriguing on the cyberbullying and policy front:

    http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2008/11/30/reflections_on.html

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