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Suicide of Megan Meier: Role of Myspace Account

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1. Megan Meier Case:

1.1 Introduction of Case:

On October 17, 2006, a 13 year old American teenager, Megan Taylor Meier, committed suicide by hanging herself from a fan in her room. Megan had always been a victim of depression and anxiety. When social networking sites were on the rise, Megan wanted to be on popular site Myspace. Megan’s mother Tina Meier allowed her because her friends were on it. As soon as she joined the site, she received a message from 16 year old attractive friend “Josh Evans”. Josh became a very close friend of Meier even though they never met face to face. Megan discussed everything with “Josh”. Eventually, her online friend ”Josh” became aggressive to her, called her names and went on to spread derogatory remarks about her. One day, he sent her this text which proved very critical for her life

“World would be a better place without you”

This led to her having an emotional breakdown. Heartbroken, she went to her room and did not come back alive. On the day of October 17, 2006, she hanged herself with a belt from a roof fan.

1.2 Type of Crime:

Harassing someone behind a computer screen online comes under cyberbullying. Hence, it was cyberbullying.

2. Court Proceedings:

The case of “Suicide of Megan Meier” was initially prosecuted locally at United States District Court for the Central District of California.

2.1 Investigation:

Several weeks after her death, Megan’s parents were told of a woman, Lori Drew who was the mother of Megan’s old friend Sarah Drew. Megan was once friends with Sarah until Sarah thought that Megan spoke ill of her. Megan’s Parents found out that Lori created “Josh Evans” account. Even, Lori for once, admitted she knows the password of “Josh Evans” as a joke. With further investigations, a former employee of Lori Drew, named Ashley Grills was identified as the person who wrote these texts to Megan. She was also the writer of last message of “Josh Evans” after which, Megan did suicide.

According to Grills, Lori Drew was involved from the beginning and wanted to “mess with Megan” because Megan might have spread rumors about her daughter Sarah.

2.2 State Decision:

In December, 2007, Missouri prosecutors announced that they would not charge Drew in connection with Meier’s death. According to St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas, there was not enough evidence to bring charges. [13]

2.3 Indictment:

On 15th may, 2008, Grand jury of the United State of District Court indicated Drew on 4 counts.

  • The first count alleged a conspiracy arising out of a charged violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, namely that Drew and her co-conspirators agreed to violate the CFAA by intentionally accessing a computer used in interstate commerce ‘without authorization’ and in ‘excess of authorized use’, and by using interstate communication to obtain information from the computer in order to inflict emotional distress in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a) (2) (C). [13]
  • Count 2, 3 and 4 allege that Drew violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by accessing MySpace servers to obtain information regarding Meier in breach of the Myspace Terms of Service, on September 20, 2006 and October 16, 2006. [13]

2.4 Brief Report:

On September 4, 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF filed a brief to dismiss the indictment. The brief main argument was:

  • Drew violation of Myspace terms and conditions was not “without authorization” or “excess of authorized use” under CFAA.
  • interpreting the CFAA to apply to a breach of a website’s Terms of Service would violate the Due Process protections of the Constitution

The brief was in favor to Drew’s motion.

2.5 Evidence and Arguments:

A former employee of Lori Drew, Ashley Grill that it was she who presented the idea to create the MySpace account and clicked to agree to the terms of service and that neither she nor Drew saw or read the terms. Reportedly, Grills reported received immunity for her testimony against drew.

At trial, Drew was acquitted of the charged felonies, but found guilty of lesser misdemeanors violations of the CFAA.

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Prosecutors claim that the evidence shows Drew’s motive for allegedly committing computer crimes in an effort to cause intentional emotional distress to Meier.

Drew’s defense team argued in their motion to exclude that the evidence of Meier’s suicide should be found inadmissible because it is:

  • irrelevant
  • Unfairly prejudicial.
  • the suicide does not go to any element of the crimes charged under the CFAA
  • The government is seeking to admit the evidence with the intent of prejudicing the jury and to punish Drew for Meier’s death.

The government argued that the court should deny Drew’s motion because:

  • Meier’s suicide is highly probative on the issue of Drew’s intent and provides context for Drew’s conduct after Meier’s death.
  • The substantial probative value is not outweighed by the limited prejudicial effect. The government contended that Meier’s suicide helps prove Drew intended to inflict emotional distress on the girl. The government contends that the possible prejudicial effect of the evidence could be mitigated by voir dire and appropriate jury instructions.

Drew was charged with conspiracy and with three counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (‘CFAA’), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, after creating a fake MySpace account, purporting to be a teenage boy.

3. Decision:

The jury was deadlocked on Count One for Conspiracy, but unanimously found Drew not guilty of Counts two, three and four. The jury did, however, find Drew guilty of a misdemeanor violation of the CFAA.

Federal Judge Wu argues that the that the CFAA’s criminal prohibition against accessing a computer ‘without authorization’ should not be interpreted as extending to instances of individual violations of a website’s Terms of Service.

On November 23, 2008, Drew filed a motion for acquittal. On August 28, 2009, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu formally granted Drew’s motion for acquittal, overturning the jury’s guilty verdict. The Meier’s did not file a civil lawsuit.

4. Analysis:

4.1 Quality of Investigation:

This FBI led Investigation was started weeks after the death of Megan. However, with the neighbor coming up and telling Megan’s parents about Lori Drew’s account, the investigation became stronger. Lori Drew even said to one of the minors at school that knew about it, to keep his mouth shut. Her Daughter Sarah Drew and former employee Ashley Grills were also involved. As far as the investigation is concerned, it successfully led to identifying the actual characters involved in it, especially, main mastermind of Lori Drew. Hence, the quality of investigation was satisfactory.

4.2 Evidence Presented in court:

Former Employee of Lori Drew, Ashley Grills gave testimony against Drew which was slightly useful in court. She testified that Drew gave the idea to create MySpace Account as to find out whether Meier was spreading rumors about her daughter Sarah. According to Grills, Drew was involved from the beginning and told her to “agree to terms and conditions” of MySpace.

From the start of this case, there was a lack of evidence. As stated above, St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas said that there was not enough evidence to bring charges. Evidence did not really play a major role in the decision because there was so little. There was no clear evidence that Lori Drew did make the Josh Evans MySpace account. There was no clear evidence that Lori did this as an indent to “mess with Megan” who was already a depressed teenage girl having suicidal thoughts.

There was no clear legal wording present in the constitution with respect to this case because it was first of its kind.

4.3 Opinion on Decision Made:

Although the decision made angered a lot of people and even me, myself was angered to let that horrible woman Lori Drew get away with it. However, in legal terms that seems like the best it was possible at that moment. Even the judge Wu was accepting any kind of evidence against Lori Drew. Also, no Legal Act about cyberbullying was present at that time. So it had to be dealt with Computer Fraud and Abuse act which does not consider suicide under charged crimes. So there were legal hurdles.

However, there should have been Cyberbullying act and this case should have been prosecuted under that act. If were to happen, Drew would never be acquittal of her actions. Interestingly, they introduced Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act but it was not passed later.

4.4 Investigation inside Organization:

Organization involved MySpace did not investigate internally. Which is quite right in my opinion. Since the fault lied in Drew mismanaging policies and terms of MySpace, the organization did no significant investigation not any change. In my view organization should be held responsible only if error lies in its software or so. And of course, people involved should be held accountable. Eventually, Myspace kept updating their terms of use just like any other website.

5. References:

  1. http://www.dmlp.org/threats/united-states-v-drew
  2. https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-law/criminal-law-keyed-to-robinson/void-for-vagueness/united-states-v-drew/
  3. http://www.dmlp.org/threats/united-states-v-drew
  4. https://www.wired.com/2008/05/lori-drew-indic/
  5. https://www.wired.com/2009/07/drew-court/
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RE3BCfqEZgc
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/25/us/25myspace.html
  8. https://www.wired.com/2008/11/defense-lori-dr/
  9. http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/digest/united-states-v-drew
  10. http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/262221
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Megan_Meier
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Drew

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Suicide of Megan Meier: Role of Myspace Account. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/suicide-of-megan-meier-role-of-myspace-account/
“Suicide of Megan Meier: Role of Myspace Account.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/suicide-of-megan-meier-role-of-myspace-account/
Suicide of Megan Meier: Role of Myspace Account. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/suicide-of-megan-meier-role-of-myspace-account/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Suicide of Megan Meier: Role of Myspace Account [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/suicide-of-megan-meier-role-of-myspace-account/
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