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Cyberbully Mom Acquitted By Judge

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, July 03, 2009 12:00 AM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Cyberbullying, Lori Drew, MySpace, Social Networking, Suicide

Cyberbullying mom had her conviction overturned because the judge said the laws were vague.
Lori Drew, July 2, 2009

Laws "Vague and Flawed"

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IMAGE SOURCE:  Lori Drew July 2, 2009/ Washington Post Web site 

 

The mom convicted of bullying a teenage girl on MySpace, driving her to the point of suicide, was acquitted by a Los Angeles judge Thursday.

Last November, Lori Drew, 49, was found guilty of three misdemeanors charges for sending mean-spirited messages to a distraught teen, pretending to be a boy who no longer liked her. 

She was charged under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, designed to convict computer hackers.  

Drew, from suburban St. Louis, received her conviction for accessing protected computers “without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress”. Had she been sentenced she could have received a year in jail for each misdemeanor and a $100,000 fine.

A felony conviction for conspiracy could have brought her 20 years in prison. 

This was the first time the law had been used to convict someone of misusing a social network site, and many legal experts said the laws should never have been applied here.

Judge George Wu agreed with Drew’s lawyers who argued the laws were vague and flawed.  He said he was tentatively acquitting Drew with a written decision to be issued soon.   

Laws still have not caught up with the realities and possibilities of the digital world.  

In this case, Drew, a teenage accomplice, and Drew’s teenage daughter, Sarah, created a MySpace under the name of a teenage boy "Josh" who said he  liked 13-year old Megan Meier.

Megan was taking medication for attention deficit disorder and low self-esteem and depression and had recently changed schools after being bullied at the school she attended with Sarah.  She was apparently doing well.  Then “Josh "contacted her through her MySpace. She asked her mother if he could be added as her friend. For the next six weeks they wrote as friends.

The boy then began taunting Meier saying ‘the world would be a better place without you.” Megan hanged herself in her bedroom.

Lori Drew knew the Meiers, who were neighbors, and the New Yorker reports, she knew Megan was on medication.

Neither Sarah or the teenage accomplice were charged, reports the New York Times.

The case was brought in Los Angeles because that is the home of the MySpace servers. 

Megan’s mother, Tina, has gone on to establish the Megan Meier Foundation, touring the country speaking about suicide and internet harassment. 

The consumer group, Electronic Frontier Foundation warned about the precedent this case could set if the terms of service were misapplied.   #


23 Comments

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, July 03, 2009 10:31 AM EST

Obviously- the parents of Megan Meier are disappointed by the ruling. They spoke to the Today Show. See the story and video here. Something jumps out. Lori Drew ran into Tina Meier and asked her to stop speaking out about the case. Incredible!

LINK

Anonymous User
Posted by Craig
Friday, July 03, 2009 11:29 AM EST

SO here is a a thought on holding people accountable for their own actions. A young person watches their mother get beaten for years by their father. One night he doesn't look like he will stop.
So the young person gets a weapon and kills the father. Then they convict said young person for murder. Now...what is more emotionally difficult to process and cope with, watching your mother being beaten to death, or having an online acquaintance of one month break up with you? It is a very slippery slope we go down, when we start blaming people for suicides. If you must have someone to blame...how about her parents? I would not let my 13YO depressed daughter spend all day on the computer, talking to what she thinks is a 16YO, who tells her she is "sexi". "Often the computer is the only lifeline a teen has" says Tina Meier . Yeah, when they have brain-dead parents who don't notice or care that their child is suicidally depressed.

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, July 03, 2009 12:47 PM EST

Craig-

I'm sure you are a nice person in everyday life, but blaming the parents here is the most cruel thing you could do. Really!

Let's not forget that she was on some powerful drugs for depression and ADHD, and InjuryBoard News has written extensively about the drugs and suicidal thoughts.

This was a very bad situation all around, and being an armchair critic aiming your frustration at the parents does nothing to add to the conversation. Do you have children? Do you watch them 24/7? No one does or can.

Enjoy your holiday.

Posted by A Parent
Sunday, July 05, 2009 12:55 PM EST

I'm a parent. The full-time kind that raises his kids. You know....

I agree with Craig all day. We're too busy spitting out kids working 9 jobs to buy gas-guzzling tanks so people can know how important we think we are.

Meanwhile, 13 year old daughter is on drugs, depressed, without real friends. That's a problem, that's a problem with parenting and society.

Next up, whoop!! Daughter is dead, suicide. Following an appeal to said horrible parent.

Yeah -- all day, bad parenting.

Do I think that I can monitor my children all day? lol, hell no. I send them out, I say, "Go play, have fun. Be safe and smart and come home when you're hungry." They have their skills, their smarts and a whole lot of experience to gain.

Or I say, "Beat it" So, I'm not some control freak or otherwise oppressive knuckle-head knee-jerk reacting to every spooky nonsense some busy-body hears on some talking-head show and tells anyone with an ear about.

No.

Parenting is honest, loving, common sense. We are supposed to be raising decent adults here. That may someday have their own. We need to give them the tools to do that.

This whole case is a sham and that poor girl's parents ought to be hung out to dry if anyone is. Parents like to waste money on detailing their car instead of buying groceries but they are the first to say, "Boohoo, it's so hard these days."

Ya, try parenting and competing against all I just castigated.

Lori Drew is a misfit, white-trash, nothing more. She isn't responsible for this 13 year old's suicide. The 13 year old is as well as her family.

The buck stops here; why don't you try it one time.

Posted by A Parent
Sunday, July 05, 2009 1:01 PM EST

I'm a parent. The full-time kind that raises his kids. You know....

I agree with Craig all day. We're too busy spitting out kids working 9 jobs to buy gas-guzzling tanks so people can know how important we think we are.

Meanwhile, 13 year old daughter is on drugs, depressed, without real friends. That's a problem, that's a problem with parenting and society.

Next up, whoop!! Daughter is dead, suicide. Following an appeal to said horrible parent.

Yeah -- all day, bad parenting.

Do I think that I can monitor my children all day? lol, hell no. I send them out, I say, "Go play, have fun. Be safe and smart and come home when you're hungry." They have their skills, their smarts and a whole lot of experience to gain.

Or I say, "Beat it" So, I'm not some control freak or otherwise oppressive knuckle-head knee-jerk reacting to every spooky nonsense some busy-body hears on some talking-head show and tells anyone with an ear about.

No.

Parenting is honest, loving, common sense. We are supposed to be raising decent adults here. That may someday have their own. We need to give them the tools to do that.

This whole case is a sham and that poor girl's parents ought to be hung out to dry if anyone is. Parents like to waste money on detailing their car instead of buying groceries but they are the first to say, "Boohoo, it's so hard these days."

Ya, try parenting and competing against all I just castigated.

Lori Drew is a misfit, white-trash, nothing more. She isn't responsible for this 13 year old's suicide. The 13 year old is as well as her family.

The buck stops here; why don't you try it one time.

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 1:28 PM EST

Jane:

I think the more interesting angle here is what effect the medications the child was on played in causing the depression that led to her suicide. As you noted, IB has covered this extensively. To the extent that parents keep allowing their children to be placed on drugs they know are dangerous (ADHD drugs, hell even Acutane) I believe much blame rests with the parents.

As for Drew, I have to agree with the white trash comment, but tend to think this was the right result from a legal perspective.

Anonymous User
Posted by Dr. Rob
Sunday, July 05, 2009 2:46 PM EST

If there is blame here, turn it on the adult who KNOWINGLY made a fake person to stalk a minor.

If this case gets thrown out, how many child porn prosecutions will get thrown out on the same basis.

This judge is full of BS. This is exactly why terms of service are set up. If the terms cannot be upheld here, in a case of assisted murder, then how can we apply it to anything we do. The comment by the judge should be enough to get him disqualified from this case, or any other cyber info case.

Sure, there are mistakes that could have been avoided by Meghans' parents, but what steps could have been avoided by the 'responsible' adult in this situation?
A) do not create a fake my space account.
B) do not attempt to contact a minor.
C) could speak with the parents of the child.
D) after weeks of manipulation, fess up.
E) DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING THAT WOULD SUGGEST ENDING SOMEONE ELSES' LIFE!

Really, the law should be applied here in order to stop other copycats, the judge should be dismissed from the case, and this woman should be tried for negligent homicide. The drugs and other information is not as big of a factor as an adult manipulating a minor. Period. Any other discussion is peripheral.

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 5:17 PM EST

Dr. Rob:

I think you've identified an interesting problem here. In argument E you suggest that the law should prohibit individuals (perhaps just adults:children) from writing anything that would "suggest ending someone else's life." I guess my question is where does one draw the line on that?

Saying "go kill yourself" would certainly qualify.

How about "You're worthless?"

Or, "You've made nothing of your life so far."

Under the right circumstances I suppose any of these could drive a disturbed/tragically medicated young woman to suicide.

By the way, you seem to casually dismiss the role of medication in her suicide. Pray tell, Rob...what manner of doctor are you?

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 5:26 PM EST

Okay, I just can't leave this be. This woman is despicable, confused, possibly afflicted with a borderline personality disorder and doesn't deserve the air she breathes.

That said, I just don't see the crime here. Pretend this isn't the internet.

Let's pretend a real 13 year old boy named Josh pretended, in real life, to like and "court" this 13 year old girl. Suppose it was all part of some awful and terribly cruel prank and upon discovering the truth of his "affection," the victim kills herself.

Has 13 year old Josh committed a crime?

What are the essential differences?

1.)Real Josh isn't committing "fraud" to the extent he pretends to be someone else but he IS concocting fraudulent feelings. So, still a fraud.

2.)Josh is not an adult. Fair. But grown-up laws apply to children, we just process and punish violations of those laws differently.

In essence, I just don't see the crime here. They're stretching the law of fraud mighty far to make this work. The simple fact is that not all conduct we find reprehensible is illegal. Some things are just despicable. While this young girl's death is an undeniable tragedy and I believe there was a distinct civil wrong committed (Intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress) I just don't see the crime.

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 5:31 PM EST

By the way, for those who say the deceased's parents have no blame to share, I'm not entirely sure that is true.

I got bullied. You got bullied. We ALL got bullied. Yet we don't all kill ourselves. Many many different factors come into play when we discuss suicide, chief among them should be medications that we KNOW cause depression and increased suicide.

ADHD is utter nonsense as diagnosed. I've met people with ADHD, about 3. You can tell. As someone with a background in education I made hundreds of kids taking meds for ADHD...they were not ill, they were kids. They were kids with hyper-vigilant and/or lazy parents who didn't take the time to be -parents- and let the drug companies do the job for them.

Guaranteed the medications this poor child was on played a role in her death and the real criminals are the doctors who prescribe this to every kid who gets detention at school.

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 5:38 PM EST

If you follow the link to the Megan Meier foundation, they include an acrostic poem she used to describe herself:

M is for Modern

E is for Enthusiastic

G is for Goofy

A is for Alluring

N is for Neglected.


The N seems a little telling re: parenting does it not?

Anonymous User
Posted by Dr. Rob
Sunday, July 05, 2009 6:20 PM EST

Hey James,

So under your understanding, I can pretend to be someone I am not (let's say a law enforcemnet official) and come to your house, ask a whole lot of questions, take ficticious evidence from your home, and accuse you of a crime, and tell you to show up at a given time to a courthouse nobody knows you are going to? And that is just a "joke", not real crime?

I see your point, but just as you or I have made it through this time in our lives, does not mean the next generation (who are afflicted with medications, as you pointed out, and has much deeper emotions) deal with our grown up actions.

I state the obvious again, if this is not a crime, then neither is pretending to be a 13 year old boy, trying to get a relationship with a minor female.

Hey, isn't that the case here, an adult pretended to be someone she is not, in order to suduce a minor child?

And as for contract law, this is as simple as it comes. An adult breached a written contract which she agreed to. As a breach of contract, she is no longer protected from the contract she signed. Thus, Myspace will be held liable for this minors' death because they did not prosecute the fraud on THEIR network.

In this case, a real life scenario would be; a teacher allows a 'student' to attend their class with a friend. This friend tells the school that he/she is 16. When in reality they are 28. Then after a few days of school, that 28 year old assults and beats up a student, or goats them into believeing that they are worthless.

Would that person still be 'clear of all charges'?

And since you asked, I am a doctor of Philosophy. Thus, social networking, and fraud are some of my job characteristics. Why should we sign a 'terms of service' contract, if a judge won't support them?

And I minimize the medication issue, because the internal mind is influenced by external forces. And these forces were an adult manipulating a child, 3 children in fact. Victim, daughter, and co-worker.

If this is not a crime, then neither is the stuff Dateline NBC shows on "To catch a predator"

That is just internet fraud too.

James I pray you do not have children, for they could be caught up in one of these hoaxes if they are not stopped in cases like this.

It really is just civil obedience that keeps more parents from acting out like this if this is not against the law. Because it was not once, or twice, but continual.

How is this not harrasement?

Anonymous User
Posted by Steve Lombardi
Sunday, July 05, 2009 6:26 PM EST

I've had a problem with the legal reasoning behind this case from the start. Proving a link between what people says to you by way of computer message and the receiver going out and taking their own life is extremely flawed reasoning by emotional jurors and a prosecutor afraid to not file charges because he/she won't get reelected. . Not everybody is nice. You meet intolerant people who bully others. This young woman had psychiatric issues that needed professional help. We can hold the mother who created the phony computer identity in disdain, but to put her in jail for doing so will lead us to jail those telling bad lawyer jokes. Hurt feelings aren’t enough for civil or criminal charges; we live in a free society where people are expected to be able to resist hurt feelings and where debate is robust. While I don’t like that woman and would not want to be friends with her I certainly don’t see a need to put her in jail. Hurray to Judge Wu for having the judicial temperament to do what is right legally.

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 7:26 PM EST

Dr. Rob:

I think your counter arguments actually support my points. I will respond with a more detailed explanation after dinner.

Jimmy

Posted by James Cool
Sunday, July 05, 2009 7:46 PM EST

I have to confess that I am worried you might be emotionally involved in this discussion, Rob. I assume this is so because your arguments contain logical flaws that a Phd ought not make. If you are, I am sorry for your grief. That said:

You wrote: "I can pretend to be someone I am not (let's say a law enforcemnet official) and come to your house, ask a whole lot of questions, take ficticious evidence from your home, and accuse you of a crime, and tell you to show up at a given time to a courthouse nobody knows you are going to? And that is just a "joke", not real crime?"

Obviously that would be a crime. The crime is called impersonating a law enforcement officer. It is distinct from making fun of people. If we want to make bullying a crime we can do that, but to date, no statute achieves this purpose explicitly. Impersonating a law enforcement officer is different than teasing and is illegal for different public policy reasons.

You wrote: "I state the obvious again, if this is not a crime, then neither is pretending to be a 13 year old boy, trying to get a relationship with a minor female."

It depends on what you mean by relationship. It is perfectly legal for an older person to have a friendly and even romantically affectionate relationship with someone under 18. It's perfectly ok for them to do it while pretending to be under 18 themselves (legally speaking). Where these scenarios become crimes is when someone attempts to meet the minor for sex, which is a crime. Thus, we have enacted laws to prevent a crime before it happens. This situation is not analogous to the one we're discussing. Again, for clarity's sake, the crime in your example is meeting a minor for sex, not the impersonation.

You wrote: "Hey, isn't that the case here, an adult pretended to be someone she is not, in order to suduce a minor child?"

No seduction took place for the purposes of sex. Rhetorically fun argument but logically bankrupt.

You wrote: "And as for contract law, this is as simple as it comes. An adult breached a written contract which she agreed to. As a breach of contract, she is no longer protected from the contract she signed. Thus, Myspace will be held liable for this minors' death because they did not prosecute the fraud on THEIR network."

Sure, I have no comment on MySpace's liability. She is certainly not shielded by their waivers anymore.

You wrote: "In this case, a real life scenario would be; a teacher allows a 'student' to attend their class with a friend. This friend tells the school that he/she is 16. When in reality they are 28. Then after a few days of school, that 28 year old assults and beats up a student, or goats them into believeing that they are worthless.

Would that person still be 'clear of all charges'?"

No. They would be guilty of assault. Again, you blended the pretending online with a separate crime. There was no separate crime here.


Finally, you wrote: "James I pray you do not have children, for they could be caught up in one of these hoaxes if they are not stopped in cases like this."

There but for God's grace go all of us, Rob. However, guaranteed, if my 13 year old daughter with a 5 year history of suicidal thoughts bolts past me up the stairs hysterically distraught, I'm going to check on her. Guaranteed.

Anonymous User
Posted by Dr. Rob
Sunday, July 05, 2009 8:03 PM EST

James, I was using your logic to support my argument.

While we all can agree that being a bully is not a criminal offense. I am more concerned with our society that will support an adults' choice to ridicule, seduce, torment, and finally encourage a well documented unstable minor to take her own life.

We may live in a free society, but I still cannot yell fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire. If I were 'just perpetrating a fraud' and in that process someone is trampled, aren't I still at fault?

For clarity, I write user agreements, why would we still need to write or sign these, if I cannot be held liable for what I say on the sites?

I agree, that Myspace shouldn't be held liable for this suicide. But if this case is thrown out, becuase the judge thinks that user agreements on the internet hold no legal weight, then why do I still have to sign an agreement when I sign up for a new site? What if I say no, I do not agree with your terms. Can I still use the site for actions that are not in agreement with your contract?

Posted by James Cool
Monday, July 06, 2009 1:25 AM EST

You make a valid point about violating the T.O.S.. I'm not entirely sure the penalty for that should be any more than a normal, civil breach of contract remedy. That's all.

I also agree that this "adult"'s conduct was reprehensible. It was flat out disgusting. But so is racism, and that's not illegal (in a broad, generic sense). In essence, I can call an african-american person the "n word" (I wouldn't) and prompt them to commit suicide in doing so, but no matter how disgusting my behavior it would not be illegal.

That's all I'm trying to get at.

Anonymous User
Posted by Dr. Rob
Monday, July 06, 2009 1:05 PM EST

James, sorry to make it personal. You made a good point about dinner, and after reading my posts, I am sorry I went that route in the previous comments. Thank you for the argument.

Your conclusion that she violated the terms of service should just be a civil breach of contract, is relieving.

Your last counterpoint makes a point about the way we treat others. This is my crux, does knowing particular information about a victim, such as mental state, or prior violent acts, or just which buttons to push: but then not only push it once, by multiple times... does that make the crime any more severe?

I agree that randomly walking up to a person of color, and calling them names with the promotion that they end their life, is rude, but not illegal. Now what if you did that to the same person you saw on the corner everyday for a few months, then find that one day after walking by, that person did just what you told them to do.

Would that (in relation to this case) be any more illegal? Is this part of the Hate Crime Statute? Or harrasment?

I see this case as assisted suicide. With MySpace relieved of any consequences because of the breach of contract.

Thank you again for the thought provoking comments. Sorry to make the personal comment, very unprofessional of me.

Posted by James Cool
Monday, July 06, 2009 1:43 PM EST

I didn't take anything too personally and I hope you didn't either :)

I guess my inner-lawyer has trouble because I fear you're blending civil wrongs with criminal acts. I agree that there are a host of interesting civil remedies here. I would venture they might include:

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Common Law Harassment (or whatever exists in MO)

Breach of Contract (theoretically, all MySpace users may be in privity of contract via the TOS, but I've done absolutely no research on this issue but the concept is intriguing).

These are all civil remedies. I see no reason why Megan's estate could not pursue all of these claims against Drew. The problem is that a.) the Drew's probably have limited resources and b.) since this was an intentional act, chances are their homeowner's insurance policy will not cover it.

You make an interesting point about the criminal penalties. I must confess I find the notion of criminalizing this behavior unsettling, but for the sake of argument I'll unpack it some.

Drew engaged in knowingly hurtful behavior. Specifically, she tormented a child she knew had a history of depression and suicidal tendencies and then made comments suggestive of suicide to that child. At common law, manslaughter requires recklessness which is merely the knowing disregard of a substantial, unjustified risk. If you believe that the risk of suicide here was substantial and you believe Drew knew about it and by her comments ignored that risk and that decision caused Megan's suicide, then perhaps there is a manslaughter or negligent homicide charge somewhere in here.

While I find this argument intellectually engaging, there are serious proof of fact issues. First, proving the risk was substantial will be hard since many, many people express suicidal thoughts but do not commit suicide. Second, proving Drew's knowledge of the severity and scope of the danger will prove difficult as well. Finally, I believe you have a serious causation problem. Recklessness requires proof of some causal nexus between the reckless conduct and the death which resulted. Certainly there is a temporal connection between the hateful behavior and Megan's suicide, but it appears from the Megan Meier foundation website that many other children were engaging in the tormenting by the time Megan finally lost control of her depression that day. Even if I accept that Drew was reckless I am not sure I'm convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that her recklessness caused Megan's death.

Finally, if I look at this another way, all Drew did was tell a fragile individual that the world would be better off without her. This is undeniably evil. However, I'm not sure it ought to be wrong to tell someone that....legally at least. We're entitled to have and express our opinions about others. Perhaps you're right, maybe this is analogous to screaming fire in a movie theater where the right to free expression is trumped by a need for an ordered society. I am not qualified to answer that question and really don't even know what to think about it. But I tend to think that if what Drew did is criminal then we are not far at all from policing insults, name-calling, and hurt feelings.

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Monday, July 06, 2009 2:22 PM EST

As a parent, I cannot wrap my brain around Lori Drew's actions... However, the comments here have been very insightful and thought provoking in understanding the legalities which confused me until now.

Thank you James and Dr. Rob.

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, July 06, 2009 2:59 PM EST

Hi All-

Thanks for the insight above. I don't see anything about stalking laws that could be applied here- no?! The difference being that the victim knows they are being stalked, and this victim didn't.

Lori is lucky she didn't go to prison where I think the common sense street law might have made her life miserable.

Posted by James Cool
Monday, July 06, 2009 3:33 PM EST

Ironically, and perhaps evidence of my own warped sense of morality, as ardently as I believe Drew committed no crime here, if Megan's mother or father were to murder her out of grief, I would absolutely would acquit under a duress or insanity defense.

I may be morally broken in that regard, though.

Posted by James Cool
Monday, July 06, 2009 3:34 PM EST

I guess the point of my confession above is that Drew is clearly a vile human being. I think we've hit on a gap in the web of laws we construct to make an ordered society. I don't know how we can criminalize Drew's conduct without making illegal things that ought to remain inviolate components of our liberty.

Comments for this article are closed.

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