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back to article LA grand jury probes MySpace teenage suicide case

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has subpoenaed MySpace and others in connection with a teenage girl who hanged herself after receiving cruel messages on the site from people posing as a 16-year-old boy. The tragedy unleashed national outrage after authorities said "Josh Evans," the supposed boyfriend, was a fake identity …

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Is it just me...?

"An attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Times he was concerned the case could set a legal precedent criminalizing online speech, particularly online anonymous speech, which is often used by whistle-blowers to report on unscrupulous corporations and government actors."

Erm...how about the precedent: if you're whistleblowing, fine, and if you're harrassing people to commit suicide, not fine? Seems like a reasonable precedent to me...

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Not a crime, unless being an idiot is illegal now

While the events are tragic, laws weren't broken here. This Drew woman might be a juvenile bitch, but she's not criminally liable.

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Dead Vulture

simpsons quote

I saw this story on the news while i was in the states and it does sound pretty sad, afterall a kid did kill herself.

However it does bring to mind a Smahing Pumpkins while on the Simpsons quote:

"Depressing teeenagers is like shooting fish in a barrel".

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Anonymous Coward

Not criminal, but civil?

Even though the issue might not be criminal to the point of forcing the girl to kill herself, but could a civil lawsuit come about from such actions from a parent to someone's kids?

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The real question

is simple: Is it (in whatever state of the US this lady is from) murder or a similar crime to bully/harass a person who then goes on to commit suicide? If it is then this is the exact same. If not, then no crime has been committed. It's sad and the woman is obviously a bitch of the highest order, but whether the harassment was physical or electronic should make no difference...

Physical harassment cant always be escaped (kids need to go to school!) but electronic harassment is easy to escape from - its called the ban button! Kids need to learn that...

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Of course not . . .

Of course she's not criminally liable. What are you? A lawyer?

If she were a 16 year old boy and she would get a 13 year old girl to pose nude in front of the webcam, she would be criminal, but now she isn't?

Harrasing somebody over the phone is illegal, but harrasing somebody over the net isn't?

What are you? A lawyer?

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Difficult to define

This is a very difficult to define crime, but which exists nonetheless. As a society, we are always concerned about the way that internet anonimity allows adults to prey upon young impressionable children.

Most of us will understand the immediate response one has to an insulting post in a newsgroup, forum or social networking platform. Most of us temper that immediate response with our wisdom and experience as an adult.

Imagine if we were teenagers dealing with those same things. Imagine if we were dealing with those insecurities and uncertainty that comes with late puberty. How would we cope then?

However you dress it up, this case sounds (on the basis of the reported facts here) as a form of electronic child abuse. As such, we MUST find a way to deal with it.

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Anonymous Coward

RottenNeighbor.com

Some seriously scary people posting on this site. Just check out some of the UK map entries (Worcester and Westminster are worth a look in particular).

If the quality of person posting to this site is representative of humanity in general, then I'm moving planets*. Clearly a waste of time trying to find intelligent life here.

* if only!

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It probably is illegal

I think there's still some law about "corrupting minors" on the books. Maybe criminal negligence? The prosecutor in her district is either too lazy, or just not creative enough.

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RottenNeighbor Story Link

The link in the story is wrong. Here is the correct link:

www.rottenneighbor.com/story.php?id=55926

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The problem

First off, let me say with the utmost clarity that the fact that this child is dead is utterly tragic, and the people who said nasty things to her ought to be ashamed of themselves.

However, keep in mind there is no law against being mean to someone. IKT's certainly not nice, but there is nothing that says it's illegal for one person to tell another they think they're the scum of the earth. The danger here is for a precedent to be set, wherein you can be held responsible for someone else's actions merely for saying such hurtful things to them. Instead of "the devil made me do it" or worse, "god told me to do it", we'll start to see defenses like "my neighbor was mean to me", and while such a statement may be true, it is not an excuse or cause. If I tell you that the world would be a better place if you stole a car, and you actually went and did it, it'd be a difficult case indeed to try to hold me responsible for your actions. People are responsible for their own actions.

When terrible things happen, the natural human reaction is to assign blame. For many of us, it's the only way to cope with the grief. My concern here is that in their rush to assign blame, they will throw logic to the wind and find culpability where none exists. I'll say it again, people are responsible for their own actions.

I think the people "responsible" probably feel have enough to think about, pondering that their actions may have contributed to this child killing themself. Shouldn't this be left alone??

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Flame

sticks and stones?

Hmmm, I'll be looking for this outpouring of sympathy and vigilante justice the next time an LGBT kid jumps the mortal coil after getting beat up, harassed, and bullied yet again while teachers and parents look the other way or pray for the deity of their choosing to "fix" the kid.

I'm curious to see how this case plays out, but if creating a false MySpace page becomes a criminal act, where does one draw the line? Consider the online dating scene ("What? You're NOT the fully employed professional depicted on your profile? See you in court"), for starters. If one could be incarcerated for assholism, the "Josh Evans" cast and crew would certainly draw a long stay at Club Fed but, sadly, this is not an actionable crime.

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The american way...

Lets blame someone else for calling the kid nasty names instead of taking the responsibility ourselves that if we had any form of real relationship with the daughter than she would have been comfortable enough to discuss these things with us and shrug them off - what is it in the media than seems to wrap up bad parents in cotton wool from their mistakes - take the McCans - they leave their kids alone while they party and oh what a tragedy one got stolen whilst the others were left alone (that's if the didn't do it themselves).

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Pirate

Laws

A large number of states have laws against mental abuse on children.

However, it would appear with the wording of law for Missouri, only the person responsible for the childs care would be punished for emotional abuse??

Missouri law, at 210.110.(1) RSMo., defines "abuse" as:

". . . any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those responsible for the child's care, custody, and control, except that discipline including spanking, administered in a reasonable manner, shall not be construed to be abuse.

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Alert

"Cyber fraud" precedent the problem, not harassment precedent

Back the truck up, folks.

Three issues are being conflated here:

1. Should the women be pursued for harassing and abusing this girl? (I think the answer is an obvious "yes", but clearly there is some disagreement - whatever.)

2. Should impersonating another person on the internet be criminalised, as opposed to being a purely civil matter? (Ditto above parenthetic remark.)

3. Should people be at risk for being convicted of "wire fraud" if they give false registration information to a site like Myspace? THIS is the big issue here, the one that sensible civil liberties are worried about. Setting a precedent that this practice is criminal will make many millions of people criminals overnight. I don't know about you, but I don't give my full information to Myspace, Yahoogroups, Facebook, or any other web service, and my choice to do that is fully backed up by government and other organisations who advise people on how to protect themselves online and avoid identity theft. I just gave a pile of false details about my name and my employment situation to the Register. Am I a felon?

If this "cyber fraud" precedent is set, it leaves the door wide open for the powers that be to criminally prosecute anyone they have a mind to. Goodbye dissent and whistle-blowing; if someone doesn't like it, they can simply dob you in for "wire fraud" because you munged your date of birth on Livejournal.

If you think this is a paranoid worst case scenario and "it will never happen", you have an inordinate amount of trust in government who have already shown themselves to be utterly incapable of respecting people's human rights and privacy.

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Well personally....

I hope the woman responsible gets what she deserves. The only reason it is not criminal is because no specific law has been created to prevent it, but surely this is no better (if not worse) than a paedophile grooming a teenager for sex? Whether this woman actually intended for the teenager to commit suicide is another question, or whether it was just intended to make her life a misery.

So whether the woman intended to cause death is still under question, I don't think many people would doubt what a bitch she must be, and I hope she receives the very worst of life in return.

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bloody EFF hippies

I mean, I support some of the cause they stand for, but to say prosecuting someone who has bullied someone else into suicide will set a dangerous president is just EFF FUD.

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Anonymous Coward

ha ha

did she have her ipod stolen too?

All social networking sites need to be cleansed from the internet, their users are the cancer that is killing /interweb/ they simply breed weak sheep for the slaughter.

If you can't take the heat - GTFO of our internet.

Superhero.

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IT Angle

Damages

Legally, it would be possible to claim damages in a civil court, if it was forseeable, on the balance of probability, that damage (including mental anguish) might be caused by her actions.

A criminal case would almost certainly fail, because you would have to show beyond reasonable doubt that the women knew her actions would cause real harm, and that she had criminal intent.

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Alert

Their is intent

A fake account was set up.

Someone spent TIME gaining this girl's trust.

This was not a spur of the moment thing.

Someone was excessively nasty to this girl. This was not about offending someone (which I do, with no regrets, when I find someone particularly stupid) nor was this about free speech or anonymous free speech.

This was done out of stupidity by an adult who should have know better than to screw with the emotions of a 13 year old girl.

If this person really knew the girl, then that makes it even worse, because they should have realized that the girl already had problems.

It's intimidation, maybe not a legal definition, but an everyday definition.

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Stupid!!

Ok, so it is illegal for an adult to groom a child for sex over the internet, but, it is *not* illegal for an adult to push a child to suicide over the internet. That is just wrong.

Also, to everyone who says the girl was responsible for her own actions, wake up, she is thirteen years old, how many of you can say that you thought things through like an adult when you where thirteen. As an adult you have learnt to cope with things like this, a thirteen year old is still learning. Sick people.

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Illegal?

It depends whether your country/state has laws against harassment. If it does, harassing someone on the internet is illegal. Simple as that.

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a question of intent

1. Did she intend to cause emotional distress to this person? Certainly.

Is that illegal? No.

Is it actionable? Definitely

2. Did she believe that her actions would directly lead to the death of her victim? If yes, then this is murder 1. Premeditated Murder.

But in all likelihood, that is not the case. The poor girl obviously had more on her adolescent mind then evil messages some facebook character. You don't top yourself because somebody leaves you nasty messages. Everyone faces some form of bullying at some stage in their life - most don't commit suicide as a result. So murder 1 would be hard to prove.

However, if it can be shown that she was aware at the time that her actions might contribute to her decision to take her life, then this is manslaughter.

The IT specific issues are a red herring. Any judge worth his salt would look past the technology to the actions and intended outcomes. Of course, finding a judge worth salt can be tricky :/

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What about proceeding on negligent homicide?

The requirement for "negligent homicide" is usually that

(a) that the defendant's conduct resulted in the death of the alleged victim; and

(b) the "person ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the alleged victim will be killed.", Further, "The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the accused person’s standpoint"

[taken from http://www.tncrimlaw.com/TPI_Crim/07_07.htm]

This is Tennessee law. However, laws in other common law jurisdiction are similar on this offence.

I think that any parent would be aware of the volatile nature of 13 year old girls, and as it could be shown that she had such knowledge, it may be possible to proceed.

That said, I think there is a case that legislation should be enacted to allow criminal prosecution to proceed under a "felony murder" rule; that is, once negligently/recklessly causing mental injury to a minor is shown (which would be the felony), the intent transfers to the subsequent suicide (since we have proximate cause), and prosecution proceeds on first-degree murder.

This does, of course, mean that you need to define a "negligently/recklessly causing mental injury to a minor" offence.

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Reading comprehension here...

...seems to be poor. Almost all of you FAIL.

The mother knew about the pretenses surrounding the Myspace account. Her daughter & friends were the ones primarily using the account to spy on the ex-friend, and it was the daughter who sent the mean message to her ex-friend while masquerading as the cute boy.

The daughter is the bully here, not the mother. The mother facilitated the scheme and was aware of it, but likely didn't condone or know about the actions her daughter was taking.The mother arguably set a bad example of setting up misleading identities on the internet for her daughter, but if that's to be considered a crime, then I guess the police should arrest everyone in online dating sites and AOL chat rooms.

The greatest life lesson to be learned here is to not believe everything you read/see on the internet, don't assume the "people" you encounter online are real and who they say they are, and pass these revelations on to kids. I'm guessing the Drews are the scapegoats, it sounds like the harassment was systematic and involved a lot more of the dead girl's peers, those she knew in real life. To attempt to place all the blame on people just because they were masquerading is a bit of a stretch.

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Paris Hilton

Errrrrrmmmm …

Teenagers get called names. Oh dear.

Sheesh!

The MEDIUM is NOT the MESSAGE!!

Teenagers get called names all the time and have done since the term “teenager” was invented.

Whether they get called names on the internet, in the playground or in the street is completely irrelevant. They need to toughen up and sprout a pair — this is called “growing up”.

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Not quite, Scott...

There are a LOT more details to this story than have been listed here. This happened here in the St. Louis area where I live and I've been following this story for awhile now. I don't know ANY of the parties involved here. All of this stuff came from local news reports. There's been so much about this that I can't remember all of the details but here's some of the additional info:

1) I'm glad that the Register story here makes a point to mention the differences between Lori Drew's statements in the police report and what the Drews' lawyer said later on. I disagree with Scott that Lori Drew wasn't responsible. According to the police statement she...

...instigated and monitored a "my space" account which was created for the sole purpose of communicating with Meier's daughter. Drew said she, with the help of temporary empoyee named "Ashley", constructed a profile of "good looking" male on "my space" in order to "find out what Megan (Meier's daughter) was saying on-line" about her daughter. Drew explained the communication between the fake male profile was [?aimed? illeg] at gaining Megan's confidence and finding out what Megan felt about her daughter and other people. Drew stated she, her daughter, and Ashley all typed, read, and monitored the communication between the fake male profile and Megan. Drew went on to say, the communication became "sexual for a thirteen year old." Drew stated she continued the fake male profile despite this development...

That sure sounds to me like she did more than just "facilitate" this.

2) This all happened well over a year ago. The Meiers didn't know that this "Josh" was fake until someone else in the neighborhood told them about it. This other person also had a daughter and somehow this other daughter knew about what the Drews had done. Prior to this the Meiers had been trying to contact "Josh" thinking he was a real person.

3) Apparently the Drews even had a wake for Megan for the Meiers after she hung herself (and before they found out the details behind "Josh" of course).

4) As for the suicide itself, the police report says that Lori Drew "felt this incident contributed to Megan's suicide, but she did not feel 'as guilty' because at the funeral because she found out 'Megan had tried to commit suicide before.'" The Meiers say that Megan had NOT tried to kill herself previously, and no evidence has been put forward to support that she'd tried to kill herself so Lori Drew apparently made that up...

5) During the year the Meiers contacted the local prosecutor's office and then a private attorney (presumably in regards to filing a civil lawsuit). The prosecutor's office said that they didn't know what the Drews could be charged with. There were no laws which cover this directly. The private attorney apparently told them, too, that the chance of successfully suing the Drews would be slim. After this blew up in the papers the county prosecuting attorney decided that he would look into it, too, but he later declined to prosecute because he couldn't find any laws which they'd broken either.

6) Lori Drew had a small advertising company which sent mailers to local residents with ads from local businesses. The 'Ashley' mentioned above is an 18-year-old employee of the company. Lori Drew had her help set up and monitor this account along with Lori Drew and the Drew's daughter (the ex-friend of Megan Meier). The county prosecutor said that he was unable to talk to this Ashley about the incident because she had supposedly been committed to a local institution due to emotional problems after Megan's suicide. Other reports say that 'Ashley' was in a facility for awhile but was later released. The last report I heard about the Drew's daughter was that she was out-of-state now.

7) No one has ever admitted to sending the final message which apparently caused Megan to kill herself. There are conflicting reports that other teenagers had somehow found out about this account (such as the neighbor's daughter that I mentioned above) and that they were sending messages, too, as Josh. It's unclear who was sending what towards the end but supposedly Lori Drew was monitoring this account and, if not, she certainly should have been.

8) The Meiers had been holding a "gaming table" of some kind for the Drews. After the Meiers found out what the Drews had done they broke up the gaming table and left it in the Drew's front yard. The Drews apparently either called the police about it and/or threatened to sue the Meiers over that but presumably they dropped that idea later on.

There are certainly more facts involving this case but those are the only ones I remember offhand. Personally, I'm THRILLED that Lori Drew's advertising business had to close and I think she (at least) should be shunned for what she did and what she allowed to happen with the MySpace account. She was the adult here and should be held responsible for all of it.

Having said that, though, I don't know that she should be found guilty of causing Megan's suicide and I don't think that the Drew's house should be vandalized or the family harassed like they have been. Telephone threats of killing them all are too much. Some of the local businesses have even been threatened because they advertised in the Drew's fliers. I certainly don't blame people for calling the businesses and telling them that they won't shop at a store in the future which advertises in the Drew Advantage but it's not like these businesses knew about this in advance. They found out about it the same time the rest of us did.

Anyway, that's enough rambling...

Glen Guenther

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Anonymous Coward

Teenagers

Teenagers should be banned from the internet, Its an adult world which they shouldn't be allowed to enter unsupervised. Period.

If they want to charge someone, it should be the girl's parents. For negligence.

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Anonymous Coward

Fine no laws,

but that doesn't mean it doesn't cut both ways, you can't just do despicable things and assume no one will hold it against you, you have to take your chances just like your victim did, in the real world people are not so ready to allow this sort of behavior, which of course leaves you at the mercy of public opinion, anyone who owns a business should be aware of this. As for whistle blowers it's more involved you really can't be a totally anonymous whistle blower because you can't be assumed to be telling the truth anyone can lie only someone in the position to know the truth can be at least taken seriously so I think that whistle blowing only via the internet is a flawed idea at best too many fakes too much mischief just for the fun of it. Basically you have to go to a real journalist, or watchdog organisation privately just making bald statements on a Myspace page isn't believable. Someone with privilege has to verify you first otherwise there is no reason to take you seriously.

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