“B” is for Bully Update: Mom Indicted for MySpace Bullying Leading to Teen’s Suicide

I’ve blogged several times about bullying, both here and over at the IP ADR Blog.  We learned from Forbes.com today that federal prosecutors are seeking an indictment against the mom we wrote about here for her alleged role in an online hoax that caused a 13-year old girl to commit suicide.  Here’s the link with an excerpt below:  Indictment sought in MySpace cyberbullying case.

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors are seeking an indictment against a Missouri mother for her alleged role in an online hoax played on a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide.

Two law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was going to be announced shortly Thursday, told The Associated Press they are seeking four charges against Lori Drew, whose daughter was feuding with the victim.

Drew allegedly helped create a false MySpace account to contact Megan Meier who thought she was talking with a 16-year-old boy named “Josh Evans.” Megan hanged herself in October 2006.

Drew has denied creating the account or sending messages to Megan.

See also Wired’s warning that the basis for the indictment is shaky at best.  Below:

[T]he U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles [is] charging Drew with “unauthorized access” to MySpace’s computers, for allegedly violating the site’s terms of service.

MySpace’s user agreement requires registrants, among other things, to provide factual information about themselves and to refrain from soliciting personal information from minors or using information obtained from MySpace services to harass or harm other people. By allegedly violating that click-to-agree contract, Drew committed the same crime as any hacker. .  . .

In a statement, MySpace says it supports the prosecution. “MySpace does not tolerate cyberbullying and is cooperating fully with the U.S. attorney in this matter,” a company spokeswoman said. The company declined to say what the precedent would mean for otherwise innocent users who, for example, misstate their age or ZIP code when setting up their MySpace profiles.

“Theoretically, it applies to any use of a service in violation of the terms of service,” says EFF’s Granick, who says the impact of the Drew prosecution could be far-reaching. . . .

Matwyshyn says the Drew case is an especially creative use of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, given that the aggrieved party in this case is not really MySpace, the putative victim, but Meier.

The case is being prosecuted only because there is so much pressure to see justice done in the Meier tragedy, but existing law doesn’t provide an immediate solution, she says.

Matwyshyn says she understands the impulse, but is concerned that if successfully prosecuted the case could set a bad precedent for turning breach-of-contract civil cases into criminal ones.

“Terms of use have been progressively getting more Draconian and restrictive,” she notes. “So as these provisions get drafted and users agree to them, we may find ourselves in a situation where a company that drafts one may try to leverage this kind of case law to take a breach-of-contract action and turn it into a computer-intrusion [case].”

Granick agrees. “The real problem is that something tragic happened, but the harm that occurred doesn’t have anything to do with the way they’ve charged the offense,” she says. . .

“When asked if this is the kind of case Granick would want to litigate, she said, “If [Drew] calls me I’d be very interested in talking with her about this case. I think there is such an extreme reading here, and I do think it’s dangerously flawed for other cases. I think it’s scary and it’s wrong and something should be done about it.”

As the saying goes, hard facts make bad laws.  Why not a civil suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress?  Or a prosecution for the crime of impersonation to cause injury or commit fraud?

                        author

Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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