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Cyberbullying Trial To Set Precedent For Online Harassment

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, November 20, 2008 1:19 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Cyberbullying, Harassment, Suicide, Teenagers, Wrongful Death, Computer Hackers, Harassment

Cyberbullying trial sounds more like a murder trial in day one.

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IMAGE SOURCE: Times online, UK 

 

It is the nation’s first cyberbullying trial and could set a precedent for cases where people use the internet to harass others.

49-year-old Lori Drew is on trial for an internet hoax that caused 13-year-old Megan Meier to kill herself in 2006.

Drew, 49, of the St. Louis area, is accused of sending a cruel message to the young teen in the guise of a boy, “Josh Evans” who wanted to meet her on MySpace, the social network. Drew was conspiring with her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, to find out what was being said about Sarah.

Drew is charged with violating the Computer Use and Fraud Act- usually used to address computer hacking.  

Altogether the four counts each carry a potential five year sentence. She has pleaded not guilty. She is not charged with causing Megan’s suicide.

Drew watched as Tina Meier, Megan's mother, took the stand Wednesday. The trial is taking place in Los Angeles because it is the home of the servers for MySpace.

Both Drew and Meier, who knew each other, are described as protective mothers who wanted to know what was going on with their children’s lives on the internet.

Drew and her assistant, Ashley Grills, 18, conspired with Drew’s daughter Sarah, to create a fictitious identity on MySpace to pick up on the rumors.

Meier continued that her daughter was taking medication for attention deficit disorder and low self-esteem and depression.

The family had reversed the lock on her bedroom so they could always enter. “I was nervous she would do something,” Meier said. 

Megan had recently changed schools after being bullied at the school she attended with Sarah.  She was apparently doing well.  Then “Josh Evans” contacted her.  He was 16 and contacted Megan through her MySpace. She asked her mother if he could be added as her friend.

Tina Meier reportedly asked “Do you know who he is?”

Megan answered, “No, but he is so hot! Please, please can I add him?”  Her mother said yes.

For the next six weeks they wrote. “Josh” had just moved to O’Fallon from Florida, he said. He was homeschooled and played the guitar and drums. 

Megan told “Josh” about herself.  “M” is for Modern, “E” is for Enthusiastic, “G” is for Goofy, “A” is for Alluring, “ N” is for Neglected.   Megan told ‘Josh” that she loved him.

Megan was supposed to have a parent in the room when she was online, but Tina testified that he had a doctor’s appointment and was not home when Megan was online.

When she returned, Megan was crying and showed her mother what Josh had said  - “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”

Tina told her daughter she wasn’t supposed to be online when she was gone.

Megan’s last words to her mother were, “You are supposed to be my mom, you are supposed to be on my side,” Tina testified.

Revealed for the first time in court, US Attorney Thomas O’Brien said Megan’s response to ‘Josh’ was, “You are the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over.”

Meier later came upstairs to find her daughter hanging in her closet with a belt around her neck.   She died the next day.

The Meiers only found out about the “Josh” hoax six weeks after Megan’s death from a neighbor who had a daughter the same age as Megan and felt guilty she hadn’t spoken up.

O’Brien in his opening statement told jurors that opening the MySpace account was “fully intended to hurt and prey on Megan’s psyche” knowing that the girl was, “vulnerable, suicidal and boy crazy”.  

The defense attorney, Dean Steward, argued that it was Ms. Grills who actually set up the MySpace account and posed as “Josh”.  She has been granted immunity to testify against Drew.

Steward argued that the emotion testimony was more in line with a homicide case and “totally improper in a computer fraud case.”  Mr. Steward requested a mistrial, which was denied.

The MySpace terms of service is expected to be the focus of the rest of the trial, but its outcome will set the stage for more to come.   

Almost one-third of U.S. teens report someone has harassed or bullied them online.

Bullying takes the form of having a nasty message forwarded, being the victim of an online rumor or being sent aggressive messages, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which did a phone survey of 935 teenagers.

Overall girls are more likely to be bullied – 38 percent compared to 26 percent of boys. Among girls in the 15 to 17-year-old age group, the numbers jump to 41 percent.  

The Meiers have since divorced and Tina Meier now spends time heading the Megan Meier Foundation, touring the country speaking about suicide and internet harassment.  #


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