A few weeks ago on CNN, I was struck by a story of a Missouri teenager who committed suicide over MySpace communications. A neighbor mother (who is obviously the World’s Most Immature Mom) posed as a fictional sixteen year old boy to harass a thirteen year old girl, and her last mean-spirited messages are credited with pushing Megan Meier over the edge into hanging herself.
This isn’t about the case itself though, so much as the novel way it is being handled, here in L.A. The Times reported earlier this week that the case is being tried as fraud, here in Los Angeles, with MySpace as the victim. Prosecutors in Missouri couldn’t find a way to prosecute Lori Drew, so prosecutors here are trying to nail her with “defrauding the MySpace social networking website by allegedly creating the false account… [using] federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes.” This opens up a whole legally fascinating can of worms, regarding pseudo-identities on the Internet. The Times quotes Laurie Levenson, from Loyola law school, who remarked that an indictment “could raise 1st Amendment issues and questions about how to fairly enforce such a law on the Internet.”
I agree that this could set a much bigger precedent than just punishing a bored suburban mom for tormenting a kid. Would every MySpace false identity start being tried in L.A. courts? How would any of this apply to anonymous bloggers, or bloggers who write under false identity? It could end up a defining legal case for the Internet, something that college students study in constitutional law years from now. And is it really worth using the L.A. legal system to try this Missouri case? I can’t wait to see how it plays out.