By now, most people are familiar with the story of Megan Meier, a vulnerable 13 year old girl who committed suicide after a particularly detestable internet hoax, concocted by the mother of one of her acquaintances, led to a massive online bullying session.
Recently, prosecutors announced that there would be no charges filed against Lori Drew , her eighteen year old employee, or her teenager, who all participated in an online game that seemed purposely designed to do emotional harm to Meier, whom Drew knew was already being treated for depression.
Drew’s claim of moral and legal innocence is that she didn’t create the fake MySpace profile of “Josh” as an act of cruelty, but instead simply to “monitor” what Meier may have been saying about her own daughter online. She perpetrated the hoax, she claimed, not to be cruel, but to “protect her daughter.” However, the topic of conversation between Meier and Drew’s fictional character was not about Drew’s daughter. Instead, “Josh” began a campaign of compliments and adoration that played to the young victim’s insecurities.
Megan, who was on her way back up after recovering from a miserable seventh grade year, in which she was derided for being overweight, seemed to take solace in her new internet romance — a solace that abruptly ended when “Josh” told her that the world would be better off without her, and called her “fat” and a “slut.” After the two engaged in an online fight, the MySpace friends of the fictional boy joined the fray, adding their abusive messages to Megan in the comments section of Josh’s MySpace page.
Shortly afterwards, Megan Meier hung herself in her bedroom closet. Lori Drew busied herself with warning the participants in this online tragedy not to talk. Drew and her family attended Meier’s funeral, and kept up a pretense of sympathy and friendship with the Meier family. Drew even asked them if she could store some Christmas presents in their garage. Tina and Ron Meier agreed.
A neighborhood girl who was aware of the hoax perpetrated by Drew then stepped forward and informed the Meiers’ of the truth. In a fit of hurt and rage, Ron Meier smashed the Drew’s Christmas presents. When the Drew’s complained to police, Lori Drew’s involvement in the internet hoax was confirmed.
For a year, the Meier family kept silent as the FBI investigated. In the end, laws governing the internet were not adequate or substantial enough to charge Lori Drew and her accomplices with a crime. A New York Times article quotes the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, as saying what Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”
Many people don’t understand that position, given that there are laws meant to address cyber-stalking and internet harassment, both federally and under Missouri state law. However, according to attorneys specializing in the internet, the few laws that are in place are vague, subjective, and widely open to interpretation. Further, many law enforcement agencies are not well-versed in or trained to handle internet cases, which tend to cross jurisdictional lines, and may involve multiple states. While there are reporting mechanisms in place, such as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center , people who have have filed reports complain that there is rarely a response, and that the ICCC is more geared towards handling multiple complaints of online fraud, rather than individual cases of internet harassment.
Adding more burden to those victimized, most complainants end up being referred to civil court for resolution, which can be a long, cost-prohibitive and unreasonably burdensome process.
Megan’s hometown of Dardenne Prairie, MO recently passed its own law in response to the deficiency of Federal and State laws, making internet harassment in their community a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500.
The ordinance makes it illegal for an adult to contact a minor in a way that would cause a reasonable parent to fear for the child’s safety. Anyone engaging in a pattern of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to suffer “substantial emotional distress” would also be charged with harassment.
In an ironic twist, Newsday is reporting that the first beneficiary of Dardenne Prairie’s new ordinance against internet harassment may be none other than Lori Drew.
A blog entitled “Megan Had it Coming” appeared on the internet on November 18, 2007, purportedly written by an acquaintance of Megan’s who called herself “Kristen”. However, on the third and last posting on the site, written December 3, 2007, the author proclaims herself to be Lori Drew, and explains that she began the blog because she was “so angry at the world for being so unfair, especially when it came to my daughter whom I had sworn to protect from all of this. I took a low blow at Megan’s memory because I desperately wanted the world to at least get a glimpse of the truth.”
Questioned by reporters, Drew vehemently insists that those low blows, which included calling Megan a “bitch”, “a total psycho”, and a “monster”, didn’t come from her but an imposter. While neither Drew nor her family asked for an investigation into the matter, St. Charles County prosecutor Jack Banas is determined to find out who is behind the vengeful blog about the deceased child. Both the Drew family and the Meiers, who have recently separated, told reporters that they welcome the investigation.