A Missouri woman who posed as a teenage boy in order to see if a young girl was talking badly about her daughter was found guilty of three misdemeanor charges, but no felonies.
49-year-old mother Lori Drew, known to many as the “MySpace Mom” in the nationally publicized case, wooed 13-year-old Megan Meier under her MySpace alter-ego “Josh Evans” for four weeks. Eventually, Drew “broke up” with Meier by telling the girl that “the world would be a better place without you.” Meier committed suicide within an hour of the breakup.
The jury rejected felony charges of accessing a computer without authorization and could not reach a verdict on one count of conspiracy. Drew could be sentenced for as long as one year in prison for each of the three misdemeanor convictions. Drew’s lawyer stated,
“My client was puzzled by the verdict. She feels deep sadness for the fact that Megan took her own life. She doesn’t feel vindicated.”
Drew was charged in May under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act after local courts in Missouri failed to bring the charges under state law. It is the first time that someone has been charged under the federal statute for violating a website’s terms of service.
It is likely that people following the case will be stunned by the lack of jail time Drew will ultimately face. However, the case presented in court was not about a murder, but one that questioned whether Drew violated the website’s terms of service agreement, something that Drew’s lawyer said “nobody reads.”
Ultimately, this is true. When placed in a Word document, MySpace’s Terms and Conditions document is eight pages long. Included is a long list of content/activity that is prohibited, including content that “harasses or advocates harassment of another person” and activities that use “any information obtained from the MySpace Services in order to harass, abuse, or harm another person or entity, or attempting to do the same.”
It is unlikely that Megan Meier even read this contract. However, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Lori Drew, an adult woman, toyed with the mind of a troubled 13-year-old girl.
MySpace has a separate website dedicated to user safety when using MySpace. Included in a detailed list are these guidelines:
Don’t forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces.
People aren’t always who they say they are.
Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported.
Don’t post anything that would embarrass you later.
Don’t say you’re over 18 if you’re not. Don’t say you’re younger than 18 if you’re not.
Though the case is truly tragic, the one good thing that can come out of this situation is that parents will be more willing to teach their children such safety rules and will be more attentive to what they are doing online.
Ashley Surdin, Mo.Mom Convicted in Myspace Bullying Case, Washington Post
Edvard Pettersson, Woman Found Guilty of Misdemeanor in MySpace Trial, Bloomberg.com
MySpace Safety Tips and Settings