Saturday, December 01, 2007

Digital Manslaughter

The Julie Group, a worldwide group of digital forensic experts, writers like myself, legal experts, and a few interested parties continue to investigate, explore, and refine ideas about law, punishment, false accusation, and other phenomena having to do with cyberspace and digital media.

I've been involved from before the start. My blogging about Julie Amero contributed to a larger chorus of voices who eventually helped funnel the legal resources and arguments that were used to overturn a profoundly ill-advised and faulty guilty verdict. Look up "Julie Amero" in this blog or on a search engine and the richness of that story unfolds for you to explore.

Another member of the group (Karoli) recently blogged about another case that is just out of the group's scope but deserves your attention.

Megan Meier is a teenager who committed suicide by hanging herself. She was a teenager like so many we all know. Self-conscious, weight problems, suffered from ADHC, and avidly carried on a social life on the internet. The mainstream media gave the story its 15 minutes of attention and has moved on with little trace of ever having paid any attention.

Megan Meier was led to believe that an online chat acquaintance was a teen-aged boy who was attracted to her and in him she shared her trust. The "boy" turned out to be a neighbor parent who created the boy character to gain Megan's trust and use that trust to surreptitiously spy on what teens in the neighborhood might be saying about her own daughter.

And looming behind all of the subterfuge is a back story of petty animosities between the parents and teens of the two families. All of the details can be referenced online.

Megan is dead and that's the last irrefutable fact that can be made about any of this.

This is about how it happened.

We know a lot about teenagers and how they think. They remain physiologically incomplete adults until at least 19 years of age. Their brains remain incomplete until they are no longer teenagers and psychologically they remain a diverse and unknowable cacophony of luminous energies.

And we know they are infinitely sensitive and fragile.

The correspondence that sent Megan to her despair and death was abuse and there appears to be no law against it.

Megan was lured into a trust relationship that she believed was a peer to peer relationship, one teen to another. And she trusted in that relationship. The oh-so clever adult abuser at the other end of the line shaped and manipulated that trust relationship to a vulnerable dependency. Megan believed she had found a cyber-soul-mate, the neighbor had achieved a perfect con.

And once the perfect con had been achieved the neighbor exposed the con to others who shared a contempt for Megan's naive sincerity in the fictional relationship. The voice of the character changed from a loving, caring friend to someone who violated all the trust and shared spiritual goodwill of the earlier conversations into a vicious psychological attack on Megan's very real person.

The real Megan died that day. Emotionally disarmed, vulnerable, humiliated, and irredeemably violated, she checked out. We are told there is no law against this.

Is this not manslaughter performed in cyberspace executed by proxy?

This case is sufficiently and uniquely qualified and it is about time that the authorities answer the question.


Danny Vice said...

The naming of Lori Drew has sparked quite a debate indeed. Some major news outlets have chosen to name the perpetrator(s) behind this story such as the New York Times. Some have chosen not to. The mainstream media however has concluded that the blogging community should shoulder the responsibility of first naming the perpetrator behind this story.

The first question I have in this debate is simple. What is new here? Since before the French Revolution, the media has been used to 'out' individuals who's actions seem to bear public relevancy in some way.

Although Lori Drew has not yet been charged in the case of Megan Meier, the media has never required formal charges to be made before running a story. In the case of some journalist like Dan Rather, some media outlets run with stories before even confirming that they're true.

In this particular case, media outlets that have chosen to withhold Lori Drew's identity have done so in consideration of other Drew family members.

I'm wondering if by doing this, the media plans to always withhold the names of interesting persons who outrage the community, if those persons have children. This would certainly be quite a ground-breaking event

Right at this moment, there is a story of a cop who is under investigation in the strange death of one wife and the disappearance of another. The cop in the story has a family, yet the media huddles outside his home relentlessly.

I could go back and list thousands of stories where the media wasted no time in delivering the names and occupations of individuals that were later cleared of any wrong-doing. I've never heard of another instance where the media apologized for naming names.

Don Henley's 'Dirty Laundry' certainly applies well to conduct of most major news outlets.

Lori Drew is a primary subject of the story, she is not a rape victim, and is not a minor. Identifying her breaks no new ground, nor does it deviate from what news outlets do on a daily basis.

I also remind readers that her name and her role in the Megan Meier tragedy were documented as public record. A public record that Lori filed on her own accord. This is a critically important fact in this debate.

News outlets, bloggers and the general public were handed Lori's name and Lori's own self admissions when she herself filed that police report and sought to elevate the entire situation into the public domain.

Had Lori Drew simply acknowledged what she did was wrong, and apologized - the police report that identified her may have never been filed, and the entire situation may have well been kept at the lowest profile.

Will we see the media write about this? Not likely.

Danny Vice

Danny Vice said...

While the Megan Meier case seems outrageous and unique, it isn’t unique. Hundreds of cases of egregious and heinous acts go on every day with the same excuses out of our lawmakers.

One such other case....The case of Nikki Catsouras, is a classic example of disgusting, hateful activity against innocent victims, while our lawmakers excuse themselves from enacting laws to prevent this.

The excuse lawmakers use to let themselves off the hook stem from the growth of the Internet and how fast it's changing. This is a sham.

Chat rooms, message boards, instant messengers and email have been in existence for far over a decade now. While the software used to transmit messages changes slightly, the basic essence of using the Internet to send a message is largely the same. Is a decade or two long enough to establish some basic decency laws in regards to Internet usage?

I’ve posted the Nikki Catsouras story along with many details about the Megan Meier case so the inactivity out of our lawmakers towards these types of cases can be clearly seen.

Those who are interested in learning about cases like Megan’s and Nikki’s case are encouraged to drop by and comment on them if you like. I have a couple of polls set up as well. Danny Vice would like to hear your point of view.

Public awareness of the problem and discussions about possible solutions are the best way to pressure elected officials into action instead of excuse making.

I invite you to come by and share your opinion.

Danny Vice