Wrapping Up The First Big Cyberbullying Case
Lori Drew, the 50 year old mother of one of Megan’s former friends created a fake MySpace profile in order to harass Megan for spreading gossip about her daughter. Drew and others created a fake MySpace profile for the fictitious “Justin Evans,” and then lured Megan into an online relationship with “Justin.” After Megan had fallen for “Justin,” he dumped her, telling her that “the world would be a better place without her,” as reported by Wired.com. Soon afterward, 13 year old Megan hung herself in her bedroom.
Prosecuting Lori Drew has been a long and dramatic process for U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. Drew was originally charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act with four potential felony counts of unauthorized computer access. The Jury convicted her of three misdemeanor charges instead. In this case, the unauthorized computer access was Drew’s violation of MySpace’s terms of service, which prohibit fake profiles and impersonating others. This conviction was
recently overturned. As recently reported in the NY Times editorial Vague Cyberbullying Law:
As Judge George H. Wu of the United States District Court for the Central District of California rightly held, a federal law that makes violating a Web site’s terms of service a crime is unconstitutionally vague. The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution requires laws to contain “relatively clear guidelines as to prohibited conduct.” Ms. Drew’s conviction fails this test…
It is also unclear which violations will be prosecuted. MySpace prohibits many things, including knowingly providing false or misleading information. It is hard to believe that people who lie about their age, weight or physical appearance are guilty of a federal crime.
Lawmakers should enact laws that can withstand challenge to give prosecutors tools to go after bullying of all kinds. What prosecutors cannot do is stretch federal law to label run-of-the-mill Internet activity as criminal.
My first reaction after reading this editorial was to only think of Megan and her mother…not about the fact that the federal court was right, according to the Times and Lori Drew was only guilty of violating the MySpace Web site rules. Good thing I’m not a lawyer or a columnist for the NY Times. I find it hard to see beyond the heinousness of Lori’s actions, and the pain of the Meiers’ loss.
The laws are laws. But the “social media market” is still very young. MySpace and Facebook launched in 2004. With the rise of concerning issues that plague children online (bullying, the sexualization of them, predators, inappropriate content and interaction), I agree with the Times, that lawmakers should enact laws that can withstand challenge, to give prosecutors tools to go after bullying of all kinds.