Friday, May 16, 2008

A Sad Travesty

Lori Drew was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for her part in the tragic 2006 suicide of 13 year-old Megan Meier in O'Fallon, Missouri.

Ms. Drew is alleged to have created a false MySpace account, in the name of Josh Evans, a 16 year-old who, over a number of weeks forged a virtual relationship with Meier using the popular social networking site. Josh then, suddenly, dumped Megan one fateful October day, posting messages on the MySpace site disparaging Megan's friendship and even stating in one that "the world would be a better place" without Megan.

Megan, her heart broken by this boy whom she had never set eyes on, and whose voice she'd never heard, went to her bedroom and hung herself in her closet.

Some time later it was discovered that Ms. Drew, who lived just down the street from the Meier family, had created Josh's profile, and communicated with Megan as Josh in order to "get her back" for her having mistreated Ms. Drew's daughter (one of Megan's classmates).

Missouri officials investigated the matter and, while they found Ms. Drew's actions reprehensible and morally repugnant, could not find that she'd broken any laws. The Los Angeles based federal grand jury felt otherwise. According to the indictment (handed down in Los Angeles since MySpace happens to be based in California which makes any crime committed in Missouri a crime committed while engaged in interstate commerce), Ms. Meier is charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization and via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The indictment is based, loosely, on Ms. Drew's alleged breach of the MySpace Terms of Service (which you agree to abide by when you check that little box below all the boring verbiage that nobody reads). Apparently their Terms of Service (TOS) state, in part, that the following uses are strictly prohibited:

impersonating or attempting to impersonate another Member, person or entity;

using any information obtained from the MySpace Services in order to harass, abuse, or harm another person or entity, or attempting to do the same;

using any information obtained from the MySpace Services in order to harass, abuse, or harm another person or entity, or attempting to do the same;

Ms. Drew, in creating a false profile, impersonating Josh Evans and harassing Lori using Josh's profile, breached an implicit contract with MySpace. In more normal times, and under less emotionally charged circumstances, Ms. Drew would, at best, be banned from using MySpace (in that she breached their terms of service). Instead, in this case, she's indicted for conspiracy and for using a computer (without permission, and during interstate commerce) to inflict emotional distress on another. And she faces up to twenty years in prison for it.

What does that mean--using a computer during interstate commerce to inflict emotional distress on others?

The truth of the matter is, her "crime" is only really a crime because Megan committed suicide. As I've said before, had Megan simply shrugged it off, and went on with life, Lori Drew would never have seen the inside of a courtroom; you and I wouldn't be having heated discussions about "cyberbullying"; MySpace likely wouldn't have even cared. Because the truth is, this same story has probably happened hundreds of times all over the nation, just with a slightly different ending. And those stories never get told, for no other reason than that the outcome is far less tragic (hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal instead of dead, heartbroken thirteen year-olds). Lori Drew is only on trial because of Megan's REACTION to Lori's mean spirited actions on MySpace.

Which is interesting because, as I've said before, It's just as possible that I'd gone home and done something drastic as a young boy in response to some kids who called me Picker because I picked my nose in class, and made fun of me for wearing flyless, elastic waisted camouflage pants to junior high. And, had I done something drastic, would those boys have faced indictment? Not likely. They would have been lightly chastised. But no more; because they aren't responsible for my reaction to their bullying and pestering, no matter how cruel or mean spirited. Neither is Lori Drew responsible for Megan Meier's suicide.

My PARENTS, on the other hand, would have, I hope, faced some severe scrutiny had I gone home from school and hung myself because of my cruel classmate's taunts. Because (as unpopular as this opinion might be), far more blame rests at their feet than at Ms. Drew's. What must be missing from a thirteen year-old's life that would cause her to place such extreme value in a virtual relationship (a relationship of no real substance whatsoever)?

Imagine with me, for a moment, feeling so unfulfilled in your relationships with family and friends that you reach out so strongly to some invisible, intangible boy out in cyberspace, and you place so much of your self-worth in his opinion of you that, when it degrades, you feel life is no longer worth living. Does that speak of a wholesome home life? I don't mean to blame Megan's suicide on her parents; she made choice all on her own. But I do say that if we're looking for places to cast blame, let's evaluate instead what must have been broken in Megan to cause her to act so irrationally.

Those broken pieces certainly were most assuredly not caused by Lori Drew. And to indict her for "crimes" as far fetched and as grossly unrelated as these serves no real purpose other than to assuage guilty consciences.

It's a sad travesty of justice.

No comments: