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.
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.
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.