Monday, May 19, 2008

MySpace Mom Indicted on Federal Charges

A mom in Missouri, Lori Drew, has been indicted in federal court after posing as a sixteen-year-old boy on My Space and taunting a girl in her neighborhood named Megan Meier. After reaching a point of extreme distress, Meier hung herself in her bedroom.

The question that is posed so often in courtrooms is now finding relevance in cyberspace. At what point are you responsible for the actions of another person? I doubt anyone would argue against the fact that this mother acted in a childish and reprehensible manner. Not only did she make malicious remarks about a girl the same age as her own daughter, but she conspired with teenagers to keep the fake identity a secret after Meier committed suicide. However, is Drew criminally responsible for the death of Megan Meier?

The state of Missouri never filed charges because there were no applicable laws on the books. As users of online dating sites across the country will tell you, there is no law against creating a fake online persona (you know that picture was from ten years ago and you have never actually taken a walk on the beach!) and then befriending or rejecting somebody. Unfortunately, this protection extends beyond those simply looking for romance.

As it stands now, Drew faces up to twenty years in prison on federal “charges of conspiracy and accessing protected computers to obtain information to inflict emotional distress” and the attorneys involved will be breaking new ground in proving their case. Lawmakers on both the state and federal level will be playing catch up for some time to combat those who find new ways to abuse one another through the anonymous and emboldening nature of the internet.

Check out this site to find out where your state currently stands concerning computer harassment.

UPDATE: View a copy of the Federal indictment here.

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