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Woman Indicted In MySpace Suicide Case 654

longacre writes "The Associated Press is reporting an indictment has been handed down in the sad case of Megan Meier, the girl who committed suicide after receiving upsetting MySpace messages from someone she perceived to be her boyfriend. It was later determined the boy, Josh Evans, was a fictitious identity created by a neighbor of Meier's family. Lori Drew, of a St. Louis suburb, has been 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.' Interestingly, despite the alleged crime having occurred strictly in Missouri, the case was investigated by the FBI's St. Louis and Los Angeles field offices, and the trial will be held in Los Angeles, home of MySpace's servers. Wired is running a related story about the potentially 'scary' precedent this case could set."
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Woman Indicted In MySpace Suicide Case

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  • by Reasonable Radical ( 1283390 ) <eric@white.inbox@com> on Friday May 16, 2008 @03:55AM (#23430126)
    If you can get punished for inflicting emotional distress, I guess Vista really was illegal...
  • Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pipingguy ( 566974 ) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @03:57AM (#23430138)
    I hate to come across as a "heartless" bastard, but jumping off a bridge (or the equivalent) due to some perceived online relationship failure just doesn't seem right.

    Then again, maybe kids today are far too sensitive.
    • Re:Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TFer_Atvar ( 857303 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:16AM (#23430252) Homepage
      You're not giving the whole picture.

      This was an emotionally abused kid who, because of various problems, was unable to make friends at school. Haven't most Slashdotters been there? Then, she turns to someone online in search of companionship. That person, for months, is her best -- and only -- friend in all the world, commiserating with her, sharing her deepest, darkest fears, and generally being with her in a way that her parents (for all their good intentions) can't be.

      Then, in the blink of an eye, it's all taken away. The friend is revealed to be someone malicious, someone manipulative enough to string out this child for months at a time before pulling the rug out from under her. She's now left alone, with no one to turn to. I've never (thank God) been that alone in my life, but reading her story makes me understand school shooters all the more. Eventually, she reached a point where the only thing left to do was escape -- permanently.

      This isn't a suicide issue. It's an abuse issue. There would be no suicide in this case without the willful, malicious intent to construct a false friendship created by a knowing adult. There was no reason for it. This was murder, plain and simple. Who knows what Ms. Meier might have done with her life. She could've become a doctor, a pilot, or even a Slashdotter. But we'll never know.
      • Re:Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JosKarith ( 757063 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:25AM (#23430308)
        I think that prosecuting this case in this way is shady at best, and liable to be used as a precedent for something that people here will be up in arms about.

        Then again the woman in question _CANNOT_ be allowed to get away with what she's done. I'm sure that there is mental health legislation that can be used to put her out of circulation for a very long time. The fact that the prosecutors in the state where this happened decided that they couldn't chase this speaks more about their competance than anything else.
        This woman deliberately waged a premeditated campaign of psychological violence against a vulnerable child that ended in her suicide and they think that there is no reasonable chance of successful prosecution? What rock did they find these incompetant idiots under...?
        • Re:Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:55AM (#23431874)

          Then again the woman in question _CANNOT_ be allowed to get away with what she's done.

          Genuine question. Why not?

          I was on the receiving end of a somewhat similar attempt to drive me to suicide when I was in my teens. It's far too long to explain on slashdot, but I had a middle-aged guy threatening and abusing me, while convincing others that my mental illness was making me delusional. (It wasn't, I'm a neurotic, not a psychotic.) I did much later find out that it was deliberate. After he died, one of his friends admitted to being a bit disturbed about "the time they made that freak off himself". (I aten't dead. But I did basically just walk out of the city and become homeless for a while.)

          One thing I have carried with me ever since then is the utter certainty on the part of everyone who knew about it that he had no responsibility for what he did whatsoever. As long as the violence was mental, and not physical, all the responsibility was mine.

          What I have carried away from that, is that the human race is a cold and savage race. I can count the number of friends I have on one hand without using binary. Only when I am alone am I safe.

          Nonetheless, I have never been able to find any convincing argument why someone is responsible for the way another person reacts to their behaviour. Every argument I've ever presented as to why what was done to me might be wrong has been shot down.

          So, on a personal level, I'd like to see one of these self-centered bitches face some consequences for what they've done. I just think that the only reason it's happening is because there was a media frenzy manipulating people into it, not because people believe there was anything inherently wrong with what she did.

          • Re:Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

            by JosKarith ( 757063 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:19AM (#23432134)
            The worst thing is that you can't see what he's done to you. Mental abuse is abuse just as bad as physical - the scars may not be so obvious but they are there, and harm to the body fades a lot quicker than harm to the mind. His abuse of you has caused you to cut yourself off from an essential part of being human - our community.
            Trust me, I know what I'm talking about - after suffering horrific bullying at high school I went through a phase for about 4 years where I withdrew to the point that the only people I talked to were my family and only them if they badgered me into actually interacting with them.
            • by borcharc ( 56372 ) * on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:32AM (#23433178)
              This women is basically a online troll, as much as we may not like her or think she is evil she is no different then any other online troll.

              This case is scary because next people will be arrested for trolling /. or others due to there violation of a civil agreement between the site operator and the user, that is clearly a civil matter between the two.

              Also it is important to note that the girl who killed herself approached her parents in a state of emotional breakdown after the "breakup" and her mother couldn't care less, thats why she went up stairs and hung herself in her bedroom. To get back at her MOTHER for not caring about her horrible life as hanging yourself in the home in a place readily to be found (such as bedroom or garage) by a family member is about punishing them, its a calculated decision to show them what they have done.

              If anyone should be charged it should be the MOTHER because she actually had a DUTY to care for the girl unlike the troll....
              • trolling is like taking a paper bag of crap and throwing it into a crowd and revelling in the screams if disgust

                1. its anonymous, not personal
                2. its temporary and short
                3. its done amongst a group of equally aged and emotionally mature people
                4. the target is a crowd of people, a community, not a single person

                what this evil woman did is more like stalking: purposefully targetting and manipulating one person over an extended period of time

                furthermore, most disgusting, this was the actions of an adult against a child. there is no understanding of trolling that assumes that an adult is picking on children

                and to go even further into disgust, the adult KNEW the child had emotional and suicidal issues when she set about this plan of decpetion and emotional manipulation

                so this case cannot set a precedent against trolling

                it can only set a precedent for:

                1. prolonged one-on-one stalking
                2. manipulating the emotions of a minor
                3. manipulating the emotions of someone you know to be suicidal or otherwise emotionally fragile

                all of which, in fact, deserve to made criminal

                this is not just trolling, what this evil woman did
      • A few thoughts... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:57AM (#23430784)
        Would the situation be any different if it weren't a hoax?

        What if Josh Evans really existed, and was true to what was spoken? Because then it would be a freedom of speech issue.
    • Re:Back To Reality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:16AM (#23430260)
      Maybe, but a 49-year old woman should know better than to go for such an effort to harass, humiliate and insult a young girl who she knew had psychological problems. The fact that she tried to destroy the evidence is proof that she knew she was doing something very wrong.
  • Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overkill Nbuta ( 1035654 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:02AM (#23430188)

    Wired is running a related story about the potentially 'scary' precedent this case could set."

    Really I do not think theres anything scary about what will happen in this case. An adult should be semi responsible for there actions.

    How can an adult feel like toying with a young girl with an over self conscious image of herself when they live near them?

    I can understand that there could be other circumestances when this could be scary but in this case i thought it was just HORRID what the person did.

    Mod me a troll if you want. But i think most people when they read this case realize that what that person did was wrong. And i believe that in most circumstances driving someone to suicide is a crime. I don't care if you say that the person was to emotional, thats a reason that you should be semi understanding and not go out of your way to mess with them.
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Phyrexicaid ( 1176935 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:13AM (#23430242)

      Wired is running a related story about the potentially 'scary' precedent this case could set."
      Really I do not think theres anything scary about what will happen in this case. An adult should be semi responsible for there actions.
      Exactly, we don't tell people who have stalkers to "get over it". We institute means to protect the person who is being harassed (i.e. don't come within 50 feet).

      Perhaps the way they are going about the lawsuit *does* set a scary precedent, and there is a *better* way to approach it, but IANAL. I do think that having protective measures in place is a good thing though. We have them for the real world, why not the virtual world?
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Guido del Confuso ( 80037 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:24AM (#23430300)
      There's no question that what this woman did was wrong and morally repugnant. But was it a crime?

      It's hard to see what she actually did that was illegal. This could have just as easily happened had the boyfriend been real. Lying to someone about your identity isn't a crime (generally speaking).

      On the other hand, if she had a reasonable expectation that the girl would commit suicide because of her actions, she could possibly be charged with reckless homicide or a similar crime for what she did. The obvious defense is that she had no way of knowing what the girl would do. I am guessing from the fact that such charges weren't filed that there was no history of suicide attempts, and that the woman likely didn't know (or can reasonably claim she didn't know) about the girl's clinical depression. Without those critical elements, there's no hope of securing a conviction, so it'd be pointless to file charges.

      Personally, I suspect she just was trying to get back at the girl out of sheer nastiness, and didn't think too hard about what her actions might lead to. I wonder if she even feels badly about it. I certainly hope so.

      That all being said, I think these charges are pretty tenuous at best. I can understand wanting to see justice done, but essentially making up crimes until you find something that will stick is not the way the American justice system is supposed to work, and it is an abuse of power on the part of the prosecutor. Sometimes you simply have to accept the fact that some wrongs will go unpunished because we are simply not equipped to deal with them at the time, and that is the trade-off for living in a free society.
      • Re:Scary (Score:5, Informative)

        by mazarin5 ( 309432 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:35AM (#23430658) Journal
        I would expect that she knew about the girl's problems. Her daughter and Megan had been close friends until they got in a fight; the reason Lori Drew alleges she started the hoax was to find out what, if anything, Megan was saying about her daughter. Megan confided in the persona for a long time, until she discovered a sudden onslaught of bulletins revealing all the secrets she shared, personal attacks, and comments about her body and mental health.

        When Megan questioned "Josh" about his intentions, "he" responded "You should just kill yourself."

        She did. She hung herself with a belt in her closet; it wasn't enough of a height to break her neck, but she crushed her throat and slowly suffocated over the next hour. Her mom found her upstairs, dead, a few days before her fifteenth birthday. She never lived long enough to find out that the cruelty was perpetuated by a grown woman living a few houses down, her daughter, and another neighbor girl.

        I've been following this one for a while.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
          And the moral of the story is, chicks is bitches... all of my female friends tell me there is no such thing as a "nice girl." All my friends that were in sororities fought more with their "sisters" than they did with girls from other houses.

          I had my problems with guys, but we'd just slug it out until someone gave up, then we'd be cool again. Girls, on the other hand, are all about sneaking around behind people's backs, rumors, gossip, backstabbing and "death from a thousand wounds" type shit.

          The fact a "b
      • Re:Scary (Score:4, Informative)

        by Wavebreak ( 1256876 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:48AM (#23430740)
        She might not be guilty of murder, but causing the death of another human being is a crime regardless of whether it was her intention to do so. There are circumstances that might exculpate someone, such as self-defense (in some cases), but none of them apply here.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Interesting. How did she cause her death? Did she help with the rope? Did she kick out the chair? Oh, I see, she said some mean stuff. She could have done the same thing to 100 other girls, and 99 of them wouldn't have killed themselves. The fact is that being the final straw that broke the camel's back isn't a crime. Maybe her parents should be charged, all her friends, everyone who didn't help her?
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by snkline ( 542610 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @04:27AM (#23430322)

      What is scary in this case isn't that the bitch would be punished. That is why she has been charged, a huge public desire to see this woman punished when there is no clear law that would allow it.

      What is scary is that instead of finding some actual law she broke, they are railroading her with an incredibly loose reading of anti-hacking laws. The problem is if she is convicted of this, and it is upheld on appeal, it sets incredibly bad binding legal precedent that violation of terms of service isn't just a civil contract violation anymore, it is criminal computer hacking.

    • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:11AM (#23432022) Journal
      I had an ad online looking for a roomate. My ex, who knew the site I posted on, crafted up a fake persona on the roommate site, and answered my ad. As the room was taken, she then proceeded to chat me up using the fake identity and the knowledge of my personal interests etc.

      After stringing it along for awhile, she indicated that she "wouldn't be moving so soon after all", but invited me to a fairly cool party in a city several hours away (Victoria).

      I was suspicious, though I didn't suspect my ex , but rather thought that perhaps some friends that I knew to be in Victoria were planning a joke. I was bored, so I decided to check it out. I half-expected to arrive and find all my buddies waiting for a big "surprise", and half expected that perhaps there was a real party. Turned out the address itself was bogus (darn you mapquest, you said it existed) and a waste of time.

      So then I traced the IP's on the email back to the wireless of the local college, which gave me some suspicions of the sender. I managed to determine that the password on the sender's hotmail account was my ex's birthday.

      So my point? Well, it's pretty freaky to know that somebody will go to *that* much trouble to mess with you, even when you're an adult. As a techie type of guy, I've regularly met friends from both online and off, but it's put a pretty big damper on my trust of those online. It's one thing to know that when you meet a person they might be a little exaggerated in personal details, and another to realize you've befriended somebody who's just a troll created to get into your head.

      My story ended (I hope), when I talked to the police. They weren't actually able to do much about the whole internet thing (though it seems like stalking to me), but they were able to deal with the fact that she was calling me about 15-20x in an hour, and often masking her phone # from my call display. The threat of criminal harassment charges and deportation (she was a student from overseas) tuned her down a bit, and I moved from that city not that long after.

      This girl's story ended when she got too attached to her stalker, and was given a directive to end her own life. Was she too impressionable? Perhaps. It seems like it's fairly easily a case of stalking/harassment to me. Throw in the age and I'm sure that other things crop up.

      As mentioned elsewhere, if this were an adult male and a young woman, they'd most likely have gone after this even more heavily.

      I don't agree with trumped-up charges, but what happens when there are many things that are a half-fit, but don't quite match the modern world? The problem is that laws don't always keep up with technology, and unfortunately the technology is not well understood (which leads to vague and easily abused laws). Perhaps there needs to be a meter that distinguishes minor online "harassment" such a posting insults on usenet from creating a fake identity to target and damage a specific person.

      Nowadays I think that the best meter for that is still the same as before. A judge, and/or a jury. Unfortunately, they're both (especially a jury) still influenced strongly by emotion and doublespeak, but the justice system is still one of our best ways of making a strong impression about what is not acceptable in today's society.

      I'm an adult, I can deal with this shit. A 13-year-old girl, already an outcast, could use a little help or protection.
  • by dwater ( 72834 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @05:17AM (#23430554)
    Am I missing something?

    Everyone's talking about it like she's been found guilty already. Has the case been judged on already and I missed it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mazarin5 ( 309432 )
      This is an old story, and Lori Drew has already made public statements on this matter. The facts of the incident aren't being discussed at this point, but rather what charges they can bring against her.
  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:03AM (#23431502) Journal
    The issue here is that prosecutors are using the typical shotgun approach, and firing a bunch of charges at her to see what will stick.

    Technology has nothing to do with this crime, and there could be negative ramifications if she is indeed found guilty of federal communication charges for a local crime.

    Let's pretend this occurred 30 years ago, and instead of using the internet as the backdrop, the woman and girl simply exchanged letters as local pen-pals. The woman would photocopy the girl's letters, and circulate them around the community, demeaning and belittling the girl. The girl finally finds out, and commits suicide over the humiliation and emotional distress.

    So what's the difference here? Society at large demands punishment for this woman, as she acted intentionally to harm the girl emotionally and humiliate her publicly. Whether she did so using sign language, morse code, hand written letters or the internet is irrelevant.
    • So what's the difference here?

      The difference is that the post office doesn't make you press a button on the mailbox to show you agree with a "terms of use" form lacquered to the side of the box, and there are no laws that pressing a physical button obligates you to abide by any terms. There are laws about what constitutes postal fraud, but random postal services companies don't get to set them up and have them be treated as legally binding on people who just push a button.

      There's a whole bunch of bad laws that have built up around computers and online services, and this is an example of why they're bad... because this case has the potential for establishing a whole new world of opportunities for lawyers and prosecutors to hurt people who are far less culpable than Lori Drew, while providing no real handle to deal with serious abuse.

      I have run into cases online where people who have deliberately engaged in long-term wide-scale bullying on the Internet. Some of them are well known and well respected members of the research community, people at major institutions who have written standard textbooks. Others are merely online personalities who restrict themselves to attacking people on political or religious grounds. Their victims have in some cases lost their jobs, and there have been rumors of suicides.

      These are not naive people playing a cruel joke on someone they know, there's no connection between them and their victims, they may not even be in the same country as their targets, and they feel no remorse for their actions... they've played the same game over and over again, and even boasted about it where they feel safe to do so.

      And no amount of playing games with EULAs will stop them. All it will do is create more opportunities for abusive prosecutions and lawsuits.
  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:09AM (#23432778)
    If this 'scary' thing really does attach, would it be THAT great a legal leap to say that buying gold (against such a game's TOS) is likewise hacking, in the same manner?

    Seems like it to me.
  • by KutuluWare ( 791333 ) <kutulu.kutulu@org> on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:14AM (#23432870) Homepage
    I'm not sure how I personally feel about what this lady has been charged with. Frankly, "violating terms of service" seems to be letting her off easy given that (based on the information I have heard or read, at least) she maliciously harassed the victim with the conscious intent of inflicting mental distress -- on an already depressed girl. I'm sure the Feds could be more creative with anti-stalking or anti-harassment or hell, even assault charges if they wanted to.

    But Wired's main complaint seems to be this:

    That sets a potentially troubling precedent, given that terms-of-service agreements sometimes contain onerous provisions, and are rarely read by users.
    I agree with them that equating a TOS violation with "hacking" might be a stretch, but it is already well established case law that unreasonable, illegal, or outrageous terms in a contract cannot be enforced. And a TOS agreement is, essentially, a contract between you and the service provider. So we aren't all suddenly going to be charged as felons because the /. TOS says we need to name all our pets Cowboy Neal -- basically the doomsday scenario Wired is trying to paint.
  • I'm looking over the postings and I see the usual "throw the book at the defendant!" or "the girl needs to grow some skin." These types of stories bring out the worst in this crowd and sight a severe flaw in thinking... we aren't thinking about the middle ground.

    This woman Drew needs to be punished. She started this thing up as a joke. A very stupid and sick joke. However I don't think she should do 80 years for the crime. She should do time as an example to people who think they can just find a random person online, take advantage of them, and cause severe harm. Then they should be let out after some time and allowed to move on. The intent was not to kill the girl but they were very reckless.

    At the same time, the other side has a great point. This girl needed to grow some skin, and where were the parents? This wasn't murder, and shouldn't be treated as such. The parents deserve some satisfaction, but they need to own some blame too.
  • Excellent Legal Post (Score:5, Interesting)

    by resistant ( 221968 ) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:18AM (#23434092) Homepage Journal

    Apologies to Slashdot readers if someone else already posted the following link(s) or material, but I looked for it and related keywords over the entire thread, finding nothing. Orin S. Kerr [gwu.edu] over at The Volokh Conspiracy [volokh.com] (a legal blog with a cool name) has posted a useful quick analysis [volokh.com] of the matter, which I believe is more important than might appear at first glimpse. It's well worth reading in its entirety, but I'll quote a short stretch of it:


    This case involves a terrible tragedy; I think what Lori Drew did is truly despicable. But the government's legal theory, based entirely on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030, is very weak. Legally speaking, the prosecution is a real stretch. In my view, the courts should dismiss the indictment. In this post, I'll explain why.

    To understand this case, you need to understand the government's theory. The indictment is not charging Drew with harassment. Nor are they charging her with homicide. Rather, the government's theory in this case is that Drew criminally trespassed onto MySpace's server by using MySpace in a way that violated MySpace's Terms of Service (TOS).

    Here's the idea. The TOS required Drew to provide accurate registration information, not to harass or harm other people, and not to promote conduct that was abusive. She didn't comply with these terms, the theory goes, so she was criminally trespassing onto MySpace's computer when she was logging into her account. The indictment turns this into a federal felony conspiracy charge by arguing that she did this in concert with others to obtain information and to further tortious conduct -- intentional infliction of emotional distress -- violating the felony provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2).

    But these arguments are a real stretch for three reasons.

    Problem One: The first major hurdle is a legal question that I wrote an article on in 2003: Is it a federal crime to violate contractual limitations on use of a computer? The federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 1030, generally prohibits accessing a computer "without authorization" or "exceeding authorized access." But what makes an access "without authorization"? If the computer owner says that you can only access the computer if you are left-handed, or if you agree to be nice, are you committing a crime if you use the computer and are nasty or you are right-handed? If you violate the Terms of Service, are you committing a crime?

    In my article, Cybercrime's Scope: Interpreting "Access" and "Authorization" in Computer Misuse Statutes, 78 NYU L. Rev. 1596 (2003), I argue that the answer should be "no." I won't recite the legal arguments here, as you can just read the article itself. (You can imagine the basic idea, though: Since everyone who uses computers violates dozens of different TOS every day, the theory would make everyone who uses computers a felon.) However, I will point out that the MySpace case is to my knowledge the very first federal indictment that has tried to claim that violations of Terms of Service for an Internet account amounts to a crime under Section 1030. In fact, I wrote my NYU article in part because I figured it was only a matter of time before a sympathetic case came along and some aggressive prosecutor would try the argument and see if it flew. It looks like this is the test case.


    (The original post has embedded links to relevant citations).

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe