Back in January, I predicted the case of Missouri Mother Lori Drew allegedly using the social networking site MySpace to cause the suicide of her 16-year old neighbor Megan Meier was in for a few twists and turns. Yesterday, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Drew on one count of conspiracy and three counts of unauthorized access of protected computers to intentionally inflict emotional distress upon Meier.
Los Angeles federal prosecutors allege that back in 2006, Drew created a MySpace page for a fictitious 16-year old boy named "Josh." Drew allegedly used the MySpace account to send numerous messages to Meier. After initially befriending Meier, "Josh" ended the relationship with a message indicating the world be a better place without Meier. Meier killed herself that same day.
After state and federal prosecutors in Missouri refused to take any action against Drew, attorneys representing the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section of the U.S. Attorneys Office in MySpace’s hometown of Los Angeles brought the indictment against Drew. As reported by Wired, federal authorities have granted alleged co-conspirator, 19-year old Ashley Grills, immunity in return for her cooperation with the investigation. If convicted on all counts, Drew could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison.
The laws being enforced against Drew were originally enacted to deter and punish computer hackers. It is important to note however, that despite any underlying legislative intent, there is nothing to prevent authorities from asserting these new laws against social networkers. Even though it is unlikely that even your most offensive social networking activities amount to what federal prosecutors allege took place in the Drew case, this case should sound as a warning call to all social networkers to double check how their actions might be perceived by others. Every social networker should double-check that none of their social networking activities might be construed as deceptive, fraudulent or harassing.
Most importantly, if you suspect your child may be the victim of a cyberbully, take action immediately. For more information on how to address cyberbullying, click here for my previous post on the subject. As the Drew case demonstrates, unchecked social networking can lead to much worse things than federal prison.