back to article Mother pleads not guilty in cyber-bullying suicide test case

A Missouri woman alleged to have set up a fake MySpace account to taunt a teenage girl, who later committed suicide, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and accessing a protected computer to obtain information used to inflict emotional distress. The landmark Federal case against 47-year-old Lori Drew began yesterday, AP reports …

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Anonymous Coward

What if 'Josh Evans' had spurned her

... and she'd committed suicide, would than be OK then because he was really Josh Evans? Seems to me we had a disturbed kid there who could have pop'd herself off on any number of causes.

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"US legal experts....

.... are worried that a succesful(sic) prosecution could criminalise anyone who posts fake information online."

Why? We should be dealing with a world of truth. Fake information = LIE - I don't see what's wrong with prosecuting liars especially if they have lied for malicious or criminal reasons which this woman allegedly did.

Or, is it because "US legal experts" will find themselves prosecuted for lying ??

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Joke

The only positive outcome of this

Would be that we could criminalize all corporations sweetening the information about their products. Seriously.

And criminalize political campaigners telling less-than-truths.

Seems investing in prison building companies is sound stock-advice for the northern american continent this year.

-Anon

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b

I don't see what's wrong with prosecuting liars

My name isn't really b.

Do you want to prosecute me?

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Black Helicopters

@ James

"Or, is it because "US legal experts" will find themselves prosecuted for lying ??"

Nah it's all the politicians and political parties, not to forget the entire advertising/marketing industry!!

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Unhappy

@Anonymous Coward

That's a very good point, she may have killed herself due to any rejection. But, it's quite possible that due to the extra life experience and emotional maturity of the accused, her powers of manipulation would be greater, making the force of the emotional blow that much greater.

Add to that, the girl would have less defence to begin with, and any defence would probably be lowered because she thought she was speaking to a boy. It would be like a kid protecting herself against an adult with a knife, who then twists it.

Transcripts of the conversations would give us more insight into the situation, and whether the prosecution is justified.

:( because it's a sad outcome, whatever happened.

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Dan
Flame

Alternatively..

"Posed as a16-year-old boy on the social networking site and drew 13-year-old Megan Meier into a romantic relationship" - pretend for a moment that line was written about a 49 year old man and see if you can think of a law or two to prosecute under...

"After feigning interest in the girl for several weeks" (with the express intention of breaking it off to cause maximum emotional harm) - where I come from child abuse is illegal and can be psychological as well as physical.

frankly, lying about her age to MyShit should be the least of her worries.

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They will never make that stick

But they don't need to, surely her actions had the objective on giving distress to someone .

There must be a plethorer of "hate" laws etc they can call on, rather than thinking "OH NOES ITS DA INTERWEB!"!! MAKE NEW LAWS TO COVER OLD CRIMES"

But then they are yanks, and therefore dumb

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Bronze badge

Why don't they use the same laws as they use against groomers?

Seems to be exactly the same as grooming, just with different motives.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: James

That is the whole point. She was a nasty person, but did not do anything illegal. Well, except the "network accessing" crap. These laws are anti hacker laws, not anti lying laws.

They are abusing the law to charge this woman for something. This sets a very worrying precedent, as it means that we have reached a point where the government (well the US gov) think that it is ok to try and prosecute someone like this. It is a witch hunt.

I do think that woman is a horrible person and a bully, but you can make laws about that.

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@James

How little of this story do you even understand? If she had lied to cover up a Crime they would already be prosecuting her for the crime itself. The sheer enormity of the folly which is trying to criminalise all lieing is something I would of hoped was self evident.

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Silver badge

@James

> Fake information = LIE

Really? So you'd like to see The Onion prosecuted...?

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b

What if 'Josh Evans' had spurned her

What if I accidentally hit you with my car?

What if I go out of my way to run you over?

And "The world would be a better place without you" goes a little beyond spurning.

I hope the case fails tbh as it sets a dangerous precedent. That's not to say a meteorite strike on this vile woman wouldn't be welcomed.

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Anonymous Coward

if liars were to be prosecuted

it would be a long queue of politicians. However, she is an evil bitch and I hope she will be locked up for messing around with the kids, troubled or otherwise.

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Anonymous Coward

Surely the lawyers would be happy

If posting fake information online becomes a crime (and why not?) then lawyers stand to make a lot more money. Since 99% of legal experts are surely qualified lawyers (it would be hard to be called a legal expert otherwise) then this would mean legal experts would be gleeful at the prospect.

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Anonymous Coward

re: Alternatively..

Absolutely, Dan.

Also, I remember reading about this story months ago when the suicide happened, that the content of the emails between them became sexually explicit - and instigated by Drew.

Although at the time, the police line was 'she hasn't broken the law', a number of journalists asked if Drew had been a 47-year man that began corresponding with a 13-year girl, pretending he was a teenager, and eventually got her to engage in sexually explicit emails, would the authorities have taken a similarly laissez-faire attitude?

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W
Thumb Up

QFT

""Posed as a16-year-old boy on the social networking site and drew 13-year-old Megan Meier into a romantic relationship" - pretend for a moment that line was written about a 49 year old man and see if you can think of a law or two to prosecute under..."

QFT

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Anonymous Coward

@ Iain

You're quite right - actually, in this this case, the girl was a rather troubled and vulnerable child, something that Drew was only too aware of.

Worth pointing out that Drew has NEVER expressed any regret over the tragic turn of events - in terms of whether of what she did or the girl's death.

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Terms of Service

She is being prosecuted for breaking the myspace Terms of Service, not lieing (although lieing what what broke the terms of service, she's not being prosucted for that specifially).

So this doesn't criminalise lieing on the internet, it criminalises breaking Terms of Service on the internet, which is much much worse IMO. I'm sure most internet users have broken some of the terms of services that they've blindly aggreed to at some point, this would effectively make anything someone rights in a Terms of Service aggreement legally binding with a possible 20 year prison sentence!

Glad I don't live in the US....

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Do you use any brain cells?

Just because you have a car, and you drive it around town... doesn't make you guilty of vehicular manslaughter. However, how you drive it could have adverse affects which could affect others.

The mother clearly created this account to do harm. I don't think the mother thought it would cause this much harm, however this is due to her own ignorance. A psychologist would have predicted this outcome, and if you think about it for a few moments, and all the depressive suicides you have read (or know) about, you can see this outcome was probable.

Did the mother pull the trigger? No. However, she was definitely an accomplice of sorts when she made the decision to create this account to cause harm; even if it was just emotional harm.

This mother herself should believe this is a serious act. After all, she believed the deceased girl herself caused harm to her daughter. What the deceased did, was no where near as costly or serious, and the mother believed she should be punished. It would be hipocritical to believe otherwise.

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Stop

What's a But For

"Seems to me we had a disturbed kid there who could have pop'd herself off on any number of causes"

This is easily dealt with. But for the bullying she received from Drew, there is no evidence that Megan would have committed suicide. Drew intended to cause emotional distress - because there is no causative link between causing distress and suicide it is impossible to prosecute her for what she has done.

It wouldn't be a fair situation if people could be prosecuted for 'causing' suicide because the legal tests would be onerous on the defendant.

Equally it's not a great idea to set a precedent for lying which is overly easy to action (as in UK libel law).

The relevant law should come from public order (harrasment) or child protection (abuse). The fact that it doesn't is surprising.

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Stop

@Chris Campbell

Chris, a quick session at Google yielded unequivocal results that Ms. Drew is charged with something other than "breaking the myspace Terms of Service". To wit:

"The indictment charges Drew in four counts -- one count for conspiracy and three counts "for accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress," according to a press release. The latter charge relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act." from Wired Blog Network article from May 15th authored by Kim Zetter.

"Lori Drew of St Louis, Missouri was indicted on Thursday on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorisation to obtain information to inflict emotional distress." from Sydney Morning Herald Tech Section May 16th authored by staff writers.

"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." from an AP story posted on CNN May 15th.

Get your facts in order before you open your mouth and we'll all be better for it, mate.

"Glad I don't live in the US...."

Well, there's a sentiment upon which we agree.

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Stop

Use the laws already on the books

I'm sure Drew would go to prison for a lot longer (and I'd feel much better about the conviction) if they tried her on something related to... I dunno... extreme mental abuse resulting in death?

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I don't agree with what Drew did, but ...

I don't agree with what Drew did, but, I'm also in agreement that she really didn't break any laws. I'm from the St. Louis area (Yea, I'm a Yank), so I've probably heard more details on this than the average person. What Drew said (in her alter person, Josh) was not really anything that an average teen would not have said in real life. Don't know if the teens on the right side of the pond talk like this, or even if they talk that way in other parts of the US. But, if you listen to teens, especially those in their early teens talk, such a statement 'the world would be better off without you' would be pretty common. If this pushed Megan over the edge, she was on the verge of going over anyway.

My big fear is the slippery slope we'll be on if this case is deemed to have any merit at all.

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@Geoff Gale

"for accessing protected computers without authorization"

The above quote appears a lot in the things she was charged for, and the basis for saying she accessed computers without authorisation is that she had violated the myspace ToS, therefore losing her permission to access/use the myspace website.

At least this is my understanding from the coverage I've read.

Quoting from other register articles on the subject:

"prosecutors charged Lori Drew with conspiracy and hacking for violating MySpace terms of service that, among other things, forbid the creation of fictitious accounts"

"The indictment charges Drew, a resident of O'Fallon, Missouri, with three counts of unauthorized access by violation of MySpace's terms of service and one count of conspiracy."

Although, if they were wrong then I appologise, since I haven't checked any other sources...

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Bronze badge

The point is...

... surely the key issue here is that she deliberately tried to distress someone.

I will never give my personal details out online unless I have to. Last time somebody talked me into it they proceeded to try to persuade me to pay their plane fare. No thanks, I don't want to be scammed.

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Bronze badge

You're missing a big point...

IANAL, and do not live in the USA; but if memory serves, isn't there a statute which states that if you commit a felony act and a death occurs during, or in direct correlation to, that act then you are guilty of manslaughter *even if it wasn't your original intent*.

Soooo.... step 1: find her guilty of a felony act (the original 4 charges). step 2: Now that it is established it was a felony act, the DPO (or whatever the local equivalent is) can slap a manslaughter charge on top.

Or am I reading too much into this?

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@@ Chris Campbell

The thing is, Chris, the legal world is divided into two basic types of law. The first is civil law which is generally concerned with contracts, relationships and property issues. The second is criminal law and is the domain of government entities under the direction of Prosecutors, District Attorneys, Attorneys General, etc.

Ms. Drew is under indictment by a criminal grand jury for criminal offences that have to do with inflicting emotional distress and ultimately leading to the young woman's death. She used MySpace fraudulently to cause harm to another person. Most noteworthy, she will likely serve time in jail should she be found guilty.

Now if MySpace wanted to pursue Ms. Drew for violating their ToS, they would have to file suit against her and work the matter through to settlement. The punishment for such an infraction would likely come in the form of a payment to MySpace by Ms. Drew.

It may seem a subtle distinction, but there's really a world of difference - criminal cases end up in jail terms, probation, or suspended sentence while civil cases end up in divorce or monetary judgments or something similar.

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Paris Hilton

I'm all for freedom of speech

@graham, I was head-nodding in agreement with the detractors of this anti-lying law until you pointed out it could be used to prosecute the dreadful 'comedy' site The Onion. I am 100% in favour of anything that can be done to rid the world of lame over-worked 'jokes' from an 'institution' that should have been condemned and disbanded years ago.

PH because she's wiping a tear and looking dejected after reading (or peeling) an onion.

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Anonymous Coward

<no title>

Surely, by definition, one can not intend manslaughter?

I doubt that the woman expected it to end as it did, but from reading the article it looks as if she may well be the cause of the girl's suicide: but that is for the court to decide. Seems to me that she ought not get off scot-free

As for using a pseudonym being hacking (even using the term in the way the media does now :() well surely that claim will fall flat on its face if there is anyone with any sense in the courtroom --- oh right, silly me, it'll stick like superglue then.

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to my understanding....

this lady actually committed a series of misdemeanours, which isn’t much, like going 75 on the motorway (if a police officer sees you he wont really care). but according to the us attorneys office she committed a tortuous act which elevating the charges to felonies.

so why are legal experts worried about this case, any terms of service violation will still be classed as a misdemeanour, not a felony, so the most you would get is a slap on the wrist. it is an important case because it may be able to go some way to prosecute groomers, but your average day to day violator (like you and me) shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

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Happy

Excellent.

What a wonderful use of the law. I hope this goes through.

I run some message boards and it would make my life so much easier if after I ban someone for trolling and they sign back up under a different name to continue the argument, I could get the feds to kick their door in and drag them off. Perhaps we could arrange for them to be taken to some sort of work camp with special showers.

In fact better still - I will be able to rewrite the TOS for my sites and squirrel away clauses in the fine print that mean that no-one is actually allowed to be a member (I mean who actually reads all the TOS for every site they join?). That way if I don't like the sound of someone who signs up - or I'm just having a bit of a bad day - I can have people prosecuted for 'hacking into' my sites.

I for one would also welcome the extra powers it would give our friends and masters in the thought police to prosecute evil hackers who commit such heinous crimes as posting videos criticising scientology on YouTube or articles on Wikipedia that portray the foundation in a less than favourable light.

And let us not forget our poor embattled friends in the RIAA who work tirelessly to protect us from the menace of copyright infringement. A favourable ruling here could give them the much needed right to prosecute anyone posting anything that infringes an artists rights not just for the theft, but also for 'hacking into' the site they posted it on. That can only be a good thing as frankly if I see another video of some spotty teen lip-syncing to a boy band tune I will vomit up my spleen.

And of course many websites (including MySpace) reserve the right to change their TOS at any time without having to inform their users and that by agreeing to the original TOS the user has automatically agreed to be bound by them for as long as they are a member. So, even if someone isn't doing something that breaches my TOS now, if I quickly change them and they don't realise and immediately delete their account I can still f**k them over.

How marvelous.

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Silver badge

Child abuse

Because of the dangerous precedent it would set, I hope the prosecution fails. I also hope that the woman who did this awful thing is forced to spend all her savings and to remortgage her house to pay for her lawyers, and that she ends up bankrupt.

What she is morally guilty of is nothing less than child abuse. Just because there wasn't a law against this particular sort of abuse, it doesn't mean she shouldn't be made to suffer for it.

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Jobs Horns

an absent mother needs to shoulder some of the blame

As the father of a 11 year old, I am shocked at how many of her friends have unfiltered internet access at their age. The ones that have no one filtering for them all seem to be the ones that are boy crazy as well. Hhhhm, maybe there's a relationship there, eh?

A 13 year old who was unwatched went into a web site and had her heart broken. Mom (let's call her Absentee Mom) supposedly had no idea what's going on until she found her daughter hanging. Another mom (let's refer to her as Nut Job Mom) says that the neighbor girl had a falling out with her little darling, and to fix the neighbor's wagon, she invents a 16 year old who falls for and then breaks up with the now dead 13 year old. What mom (if she was involved with her children in any sort of healthy way) is so involved in her child's emotional life that she should, could or would do a trick like this, to 'help' her little girl? What mom (blithely unaware of her child's welfare), would let a 13 year old do anything with a '16 year old boy'? I was once 16 years old, and I know what I was about at that age! How many of the '16 year old boys' on the web are 39 year old sex offenders, fer Christ's sake?

Both of these bitches should go to jail if we could invent charges to stick, and at the very least, both be slapped around by a mixed group of child predators, biker chicks, and actors from women's prison movies. They are both wrong, and they should pay to some degree.

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Flame

surely its child abuse?

I dont understand how the woman isnt being done for child abuse??

it might not have been sexual (but then you probably could argue it was, as she was "flirting" with a 13yold, im sure if it had happened in kent, then the daily mail would reffer to that bit as grooming) or physical, but it certainly was mental abuse

Because i cant see how the case could possibly be won on the grounds of providing false information, as it is next to impossible to prove your identity online

fingers crossed the lynch mob moves quickly after she gets off

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Anonymous Coward

Sad but

sounds like the girl was having a lot of problems anyway. I had abuse like this (verbal not Internet) as a teenager and didn't top myself. I understand it happens to quite a lot of people.

I think there are enough problems in the world that can be prosecuted without going out of our way to find new ones. The woman is a sick nutter, the parents of the deceased may not have helped too much either.

Sorry, I forgot my NuLabour philosophy "This must NEVER happen again", let's log all Internet access, have cameras in every home, put the woman in jail for life, start a MySpace tax and government registration system......

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Silver badge
Unhappy

This is not the right law

It is ridiculous to link the usage of computers in any way to what she did. If she had used a car to go harass someone, would they have tried to get her on breaching the highway code?

I do feel she should be punished, but I hate it when the original intent of the law is twisted to achieve the means. I know this is standard practice, but that's why I hate lawyers.

What would have happened if she had done this in the old days, assuming a fake identity to start a pen pal relationship with that girl?

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