November 21, 2007

A Horror Story [7:56 am]

When *adults* play with matches: How to punish a cyber-bullypdf

Megan fell apart. She went to her room, tied a cloth belt around a support beam in her closet and hanged herself.

Perhaps the only shock that could rival Megan’s death was the news (given to her parents by a neighbor) that Josh had never existed — he had been created by adults who lived nearby. These neighbors, supposed friends of the Meier family, had apparently laid the trap in retaliation for Megan’s treatment of their own daughter, the girl who had created the secret MySpace page with Megan.

[...] There are many disturbing aspects of this story, but two are of particular concern to a lawyer. First, Tina and Ron Meier were told that they had no clear legal recourse — either criminal or civil. It is not a crime to be cruel and immature. [...]

[...] A second disturbing aspect of the case is that the alleged culprits did not even face public scrutiny or stigma for their actions. The local newspaper refused to publish the name of the family responsible for the e-mails out of consideration, it said, for their young daughter. Other news outlets, such as Fox and CNN, followed suit, running stories that also withheld the names. In other words, simply because they had a child, the alleged perpetrators were given the benefit of anonymity.

[...] This week — more than a year after Megan Meier’s death — the names of the neighbors were finally disclosed in published accounts. The disclosure was largely the result of pressure from bloggers, who do not feel bound by the rules of mainstream newspapers and networks and who have been meting out their own form of Internet justice. The neighbors are Lori and Curt Drew, according to news reports.

The Drews’ daughter was certainly dealt a bad hand by her parents. However, the media puts itself on a slippery slope when it starts to protect accused wrongdoers on behalf of their progeny, offering a free pass for alleged predators who procreate.

It seems clear that the Drews did not want to kill Megan or even hurt her physically. They are not the first to be grotesquely transformed by a new technology that offers easy availability and anonymity to its users. Yet, if cyber-traps are to be deterred, there must be avenues to guarantee both forms of private relief and public record.

Megan never knew the true identity of those who trapped her, but the people of Dardenne Prairie have a right to know.

Related — a letter from the subject of an earlier article on the “scrubbing” of John Dillinger’s reputation via litigation over the “rights of publicity” — pdf:

My purpose in granting interviews is to bring attention to the fact that John Dillinger never killed anyone. Those individuals who take the position that he did, and who then try to prosper from it, are likely to find themselves facing litigation.

[...] Please don’t interpret this to mean I am upset with the writer of the article. She is an accomplished professional and did what she felt was necessary to provide both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, I felt I was placed in an unflattering light and appeared to be someone who was unreasonable and quick to resort to litigation. I always try to reason with individuals and explain both my position and the law before resorting to legal action. Lastly, I only resort to litigation when individuals refuse to stop calling John a murderer and/or to take corrective measures to clear up the harm they have caused. Thank you for your time.

I’m sure the Drews feel the same way

Later: The Boston Globe picks up another LATimes’ article (pdf): Girl’s suicide after online chats leaves a town in shock - pdf

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