MySpace Suicide and the XBox Legal Experience

In a somber note, I would like to extend my condolences to all first parties involved.

This is a sad situation about an unfortunate little girl.  Even more sadly, the emotional aspects of this case seem to have overwhelmed the logical ones, and put us in a very curious legal place.

And by “us” I’m talking about the 9th District in the U.S.

The background in the case can be read over here. I’m going to assume some familiarity with the case, as it’s probably all over the network news given the hot-topic/high emotional content of the situation.  This is the kind of case that makes for good TV.

Which I think falls under the label of “sadder still” but that’s a topic for another day.

Here I want to talk about what I think is good and bad about the decision.    There’s a couple of each.

First, I think it’s good that she was found both innocent of the felonies and guilty of some misdemeanor.  From what I understand of the case…

Legally, as [Defendant Lori] Drew’s lawyer Dean Steward repeatedly reminded the jury, the case was not about whether Drew caused Megan to commit suicide. Instead, Drew was accused of violating MySpace’s terms of service by obtaining personal information to inflict emotional distress on the teen.

Megan killed herself after “Josh” told her the world would be better off without her, prosecutors said. The assistant, 20-year-old Ashley Grills, testified under a grant of immunity that she was the one who sent the final message.  Drew’s daughter Sarah was also not charged.

Sarah told jurors her mother thought inventing “Josh” was a good idea but changed her mind two weeks later and told Grills to shut it down.

….and that’s not a felony.

Things to note here…[1] it wasn’t the accused (and convicted) that sent the final really nasty-gram, the government made a deal with the trigger-bitch, [2] this was a two-week romance, which, sadly, speaks to a not quite stable mind, and [3] THIS IS ABOUT VIOLATING MYSPACE’S TERMS OF SERVICE.

That’s the only “crime” they could come up with here.  What bothers me most about the verdict, is that while the jurors rightly realized they couldn’t legitimately call this action a felony, they still felt the need to punish this woman for her role in the tragedy.

BTW, the level where you get to a “felony” is a crime where…common-law and local-law wise…

The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person’s land and goods;

In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the Federal government defines a felony as a crime which involves a potential punishment of a year or longer in prison.

It also includes a bunch of other stuff…

In the United States felons often face additional consequences, such as the loss of voting rights in many states; exclusion from certain lines of work and difficulty in finding a job in others; prohibition from obtaining certain licenses; exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armour; and ineligibility to run for or be elected to public office. In addition, some states consider a felony conviction to be grounds for an uncontested divorce.

In other words, it should be for pretty damn serious crimes.  A felon is, quite literally, a lesser-citizen of the United States (a truth that factors into recidivism rates, no doubt).  Some may think getting back at a girl to defend your own children (and what other rationalization would Drew use, do you think?) might be grounds for felonious treatment, but I just can’t put sending a few fraudulent emails to a young girl in the same category as kidnapping and raping her.

Kidnap and rape are felonies.   Sending vicious emails and ignoring click-through agreements are not.

Especially, when it’s just “assumed” that people read them and they are binding.  This is the part of the case that really bothers me.  Remember, she ultimately got convicted for clicking-though an agreement and not following it…

But the emotional pull, and much of the testimony in the trial in federal court in Los Angeles, centered on the suicide. “The tragedy in this case is not just Megan Meier’s suicide. It’s the fact that it was so preventable,” U.S.attorney Thomas O’Brien said in his closing statement.

The case is believed to be one of the first of its kind to use the statute barring unauthorized access to computers, which has previously been used to combat computer hacking, to address so-called cyberbullying.

So she got convicted for …. hacking?  Are you kidding me?  And they used the emotional story of a teen suicide to stretch the law that far?   Arrrghh!!

I’m sorry, but don’t you think the girl’s parents locking her in her room meant she spent an inordinate amount of time online?  Might that have, perhaps, adversely affected her ability to cope?

Megan’s mother, Tina Meier, told jurors that her daughter was taking medication for attention deficit disorder and depression, and that she struggled with low self-esteem. Concerned about her daughter’s safety, Meier said she had Megan’s father reverse the lock on her bedroom.

So her mother orders her kid to take all sorts of pills, then orders the father to lock their daughter in her room, forgets about turning off the internet, which the teen uses to find a friend…and then it falls apart….and now it’s considered a crime to violate an End-User-License-Agreement that no one flippin’ reads anyway.   What?!

Why can’t the lesson here be “don’t put your kids on a ton a drugs and lock them in their rooms”?

Which brings us to a video I made a week ago called the XBox Legal Experience….which I will now need to amend, it would seem…

At about 2:20 in that video I go off about what a joke it is that such an insanely impossible-to-read-or-understand CLICK-THROUGH legal agreement could be binding in a court of law (and yes, if you are using an XBox you have agreed not to use the service for “cyber-bullying”…or as it’s known in some places “online gaming.”).

It turns out I was wrong.

Thanks to a MySpace Suicide and the XBox Legal Experience, this kind of crap is now actually binding on tangential crimes.  You might want to go back and start reading everything you’ve agreed to.  If you install as much software as I do, reading EULA’s is probably going to take up a good part of your remaining life.

And so we see a glimpse of the vision, of the future, of a country, as brought to you by News Corp. and Microsoft.

Ain’t Corporate America grand?