Friday, May 16, 2008

You Call Yourself a Friend?

Yesterday, a 49 year old Missouri woman was indicted on federal charges in connection with the suicide of a 13 year old girl who lived up the street from her. Lori Drew is accused of posing as a teenage boy on MySpace, then "taunting Megan Meier to death" (an allegation that's somehow being made with a straight face). Needless to say, Meier's mom was all over the morning talk shows today, demanding a life-sentence for Drew and unleashing volley upon volley of practiced indignation in defense of not only her late daughter, but ostensibly all of America's perpetually "cyber-bullied." Back in January, I addressed this somewhat dubious issue -- figuring that the questionable indictment that's just been handed was already well on its way.

I'm a big fan of Law & Order and generally mouth a little "Get 'em Jack" every time Sam Waterston's character -- grizzled, incomprehensible DA Jack McCoy -- pulls some clever legal tactic out of his ass to get a conviction.

This fact, in addition to providing a glimpse into the tragic nature of my daily existence, would probably lead you to assume that I'm one of those people who believes in justice-at-all-costs -- doing whatever is necessary to make the guilty pay.

Not exactly.

Case in point: Today's L.A. Times details a plan by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles to file charges against a Missouri woman who allegedly posed as a teenage boy on MySpace, then taunted a 13-year-old girl until the kid hung herself. Both state and federal attorneys haven't yet been able to touch Lori Drew -- who, as it turns out, lives only a few doors down from the victim. The reason of course is because technically she didn't violate any laws; it isn't a crime to pretend to be someone non-existent online, befriend a person, then reject him or her (which in this case caused the unfortunate "mark" to go into an admittedly nasty downward spiral).

Let me rephrase that -- it isn't a crime yet.

Displaying the sort of knee-jerk imprudence that's become de rigeur from today's gladhanding lawmakers -- a reaction which emphatically belies the fact that there are still a hell of a lot of real problems across this country in need of attention -- Missouri legislators are now pushing to close the loophole that's allowed the state's apparent epidemic of online bullying to continue unabated. They want to make it illegal for an adult to "harass a child online" -- because once again, this sort of thing happens all the time and it's about time someone did something about it.

The real tragedy in all of this, at least insofar as it pertains to the ability of the lawmakers in question to shamelessly milk such grandstanding for all it's worth come election time, is that the name of the victim in the Missouri case is Megan Meier -- and, unfortunately, there's already a "Meghan's Law."

At one time, we prided ourselves on being a nation of "laws, not men." Possibly the most obvious proof that we've become willing to bend this once-hallowed tenet of the rule of law is that our government now sees nothing wrong with enacting legislation as a direct, politically expedient response to a single high-profile crime, then slapping the name of the victim of that particular crime on said law -- just to drive the point home.

But while Missouri's working on cracking down on future Lori Drews, let's not forget the feds in L.A. who think they've come up with a novel way to nail the one still walking around free after supposedly ridiculing a kid to death.

It's the kind of clever legal ploy that would put a gleam in Jack McCoy's eye, really.

The want to charge Lori Drew not with killing Megan Meier -- but with defrauding MySpace.

How exactly?

By creating a phony account, using a fake name.

I'll give you a minute to stop laughing.

According to the Times, a federal grand jury has already served MySpace with a subpoena, demanding that the site turn over any information on the fake profile used to harass Meier. The mother of the victim meanwhile says exactly what you'd expect her to say -- expressing the popular sentiment that's given life to such a farcical tactic: She doesn't care what Drew is nailed for, as long as she's nailed for something.

Although points for creativity are certainly in order, experts agree that there's a pretty good chance this case, if brought to court, will quickly be thrown out of court.

Still, the potential legal precedent being set for the sake of making one admittedly rotten woman pay for her cruelty is something that should be neither overlooked nor underestimated.

Those who immediately bring up First Amendment rights obviously have a strong argument.

But beyond that, consider the three-ring circus of litigation that could roll into MySpace's little cyber-town should prosecutors succeed in getting this taken seriously in a courtroom. The potential consequences are as ridiculous as they are far-reaching.

A quick glance at just my own MySpace profile page should give you some idea. Among my "friends" are Sheriff Bart, Dr. Leo Spaceman, Pootie Tang, General Zod and Frank the giant rabbit from Donnie Darko. Even Charles Bukowski has his own profile -- and he's dead for Christ's sake. Now before you begin dismissing these kinds of profiles as being obvious jokes and bearing little resemblance to the built-to-terrorize site allegedly concocted by Lori Drew, remember that they're all equal in the eyes of the law.

That's what a precedent is, and common sense often takes a back seat to it -- particularly when it's wielded by a canny lawyer.

No one's saying that Lori Drew, if guilty of what she's being accused of, isn't a God-awful human being -- one deserving of a place in a special little circle of Kafka hell.

But it boils down to this: You cannot legislate every kind of bad behavior.

When you try to, it's usually the good people who suffer.


the doctor said...

The only crime here rests with the girls parents who likely never took the time to figure out that she likely had emotional problems or had depression or whatever.

If the court takes up this case I am going to stat some legal action myself!

Maybe I should the girl who shunned me in high school and then got eaten out by Wes at the Denny's parking lot. I guess that is the best 2.99 breakfast investment you can make.

Amy said...

Dear The Doctor,

That's not true. Her parents did know, and they were helping and supporting her.


While I agree that legislating every little thing isn't a great idea, I just feel like this woman, who by the way KNEW that the girl had emotional problems, this woman who was also a parent showed a very large gap in judgment, and SOMETHING should be done.

Maybe the "she'll get hers in the end" applies, but if it were my daughter, I don't know if that would be enough.

It's an all around sad story.

Blenderab said...

I don’t necessarily disagree, but there are problems with the arguments. Allow me to play “Devil’s Advocate” for a second.

Blenderab, Sheriff Bart, Pootie Tang, et al., are not our true names, but online nicknames and/or “handles”. By using them, we are not being necessarily “fraudulent”. If we lie about our real identities, ages, locations, etc., then technically, we are.

While there are laws against lying, misleading, or exaggerating information on things like police reports, applications for licenses, credit, etc., it’s true there are none against making up, or lying about yourself on myspace, AOL profiles, and the like. Perhaps, there should be, don’t you think?

You have to admit that fighting pedophiles, and those who pray on the young, is an important issue that should be addressed. (Especially considering that you are a soon to be parent.) If a law like they are presenting is passed, it could be used to punish those who might get off on technicalities for the harder, more serious crimes. (Like those tools on your favorite “Predator” shows.) Isn’t something, better than nothing in this scenario?

(Hey, if people just didn’t try to hurt, or have sex with children, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation.)

wickedwitch said...

You can not legislate morality or common courtesy. But a damn good ass-whipping might help.

Anonymous said...

I love the internet...

Chez said...

Dear God that's brilliant. Tasteless as hell, but brilliant.

Stephen said...

"You cannot legislate every kind of bad behavior.
When you try to, it's usually the good people who suffer."

I hate to sound like a tool, but isn't this the argument the NRA has been giving for years about anti-gun legislation?

On second thought, It's hard for me to not sound like a tool, so I'll withdraw that first part.

Erica Dee said...

I firmly believe in karma... and public humiliation.

If I were Megan's mom I would NOT let this woman live a normal life ever again. But I wouldn't try to put her in jail. You can't be jailed for stupid. I would just follow her every move and not let her live comfortably ever again. There's no reason why she can't move in next door to this woman and make her really really really hate life. What comes around goes around. Just like she did to her daughter.

And isn't the point of myspace to kind of be someone you're really not, because if we really weren't lying about some part of ourselves behind that computer screen why wouldn't we just go out and meet people face to face? Haven't we heard about the many poses of the myspace picture that makes you look completely different?

Anonymous said...

Stephen, you practically Godwined yourself there.


There is a lot more to this story than simply saying this retarded woman "killed" that girl. A whole lot more.

Life is tough, people can be cruel, hideous creatures. I think it's awful what happened to this girl. I think the woman who pretended to be a boy is sick. HOWEVER: this is life. If you can't deal, well, there's always the Darwin Awards.

Anonymous said...

Gee Chez do I have to do all the thinking around here? Just ask your friend General Zod to throw Lori and her house into the sun.


Anonymous said...

I can't even fathom what sort of person, much less an ADULT would do this - not just to another adult, but to a child.

I can't help but think that if legislating stupidity means punishing it, it's not such a bad idea.

And ah, Charles Bukowski is my cat's Myspace friend.

~Julie Winters (not my real name, but a name I've used on the internet since Al invented it)

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for the mom but if this is all it took to send the girl over the edge and kill herself something like this was probably an inevitability. How would she react in the future after say, a first major break up, or a divorce, or even not getting into a school she wanted? Did her parents plan to have her on suicide watch for the rest of her life? Life is filled with unavoidable tragedies. Theres no question that the lady behind it is a piece of shit but considering that her and her family have been turned into national pariahs at this point is some kind of vague and probably unconstitutional legislation really necessary?

- Optimus Prime