Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mom indicted in MySpace suicide case

This is no good.

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a Missouri woman for her alleged role in perpetrating a hoax on the online social network MySpace against a 13-year-old neighbor who committed suicide.

I may catch some heat on this since everyone is so very sensitive about children. But I don't think this woman should be charged. Well, wait, lets see what she's been charged with first. I assume it's some obscure law stretched almost to the breaking point.

Lori Drew of suburban St. Louis allegedly helped create a false-identity MySpace account to contact Megan Meier, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Josh didn't exist. Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006 after receiving cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her.

Very sad. But not criminal. Dispictable? Yes. Disgusting? Absolutely. But not criminal. This is a can of worms we shouldn't be opening.

Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, called the case heart-rending. "The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses," Hernandez said. "Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions."

See now this is the problem. Did this woman cross the line? That goes without question. Should she be held responsible for harassment? Yes. Maybe I'd go as far as Endangering the welfare of a minor. But holding someone responsible for a suicide is a road we shouldn't travel down. Why? Because where does it end? Do we start holding people responsible for other peoples actions. I did this story a while ago and still believe that the teens mother should have been monitoring her daughters online chatter more closely. I am in no way legitimizing the actions of this woman who harassed a 13-year-old girl on Myspace. I'm just saying we should look down the road a little and be wary of where this is headed. We have a tendency as a culture, especially when it comes to children, to go a little overboard in effort to protect them. Nothing in this country is hated more than people who prey on children. Not murderers, rapists, arsonists, no one. And sometimes in that effort we blind ourselves to damage we may be doing. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

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.

This is the stretch I'm talking about. Accessing protected computers without authorization is a charge usually leveled at hackers who target government computers. Harassing someone on a public website does not fail under this at all.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case. It has been used in the past to address hacking. "This was a tragedy that did not have to happen," O'Brien said.

It is a tragedy. It's a tragedy that no one caught what was happening before this young girl took her own life. Tragic that she never realized that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But not criminal. It's such a dispictable act that we feel the need to punish. I would rather see some harassment charges leveled at this woman. We start making people responsible for others' suicides and what's to stop charges being leveled at someone who breaks up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend and that person takes their life? What about a boss who fires someone and they kill themselves? Slipper slope we should approach with caution. I'm interested to see how this turns out.


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