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?

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Fake World Sales Skyrocket As Real World Goes to Shit

October/November 2008 was an absolute WATERSHED in gaming.
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – U.S. sales of videogame hardware and software rose 18 percent in October from a year earlier, after falling 7 percent in September, as Nintendo Co Ltd’s Wii console sold over 800,000 units, market researcher NPD reported on Thursday.

Video machine makers said the results boded well for the holiday season.

“We feel cautiously optimistic (going into the holidays), we don’t see anything in this (NPD) data that leads us to believe there’s a pullback,” said Microsoft spokesman David Dennis.

Dennis said the release of the Microsoft-produced “Fable II” and Bethesda Networks’ “Fallout 3,” which ranked as the first and third best-selling games in October, helped increase the Xbox 360’s consumer attach rate. Xbox sales will get an even greater boost in December by “Gears of War 2” sales, as the game has already sold over 2 million copies since its release on November 7, Dennis added.

[full story]

This is happening for a couple reasons, one of which is good, one to watch out for.

First up…the bad part. Gaming is an industry now. A big one. An important one, that moves a lot of money. The timing of releases with sales cycles is very important. A movie might have a shelf life of a year or two before it hits big, games don’t work like that. Yes, there are gems and indies that make good, even great, games…but the economic of the situation are pushing toward the high end.

This means fall releases. These are the Christmas games. So all the AAA titles are going to generally come out around my birthday (Halloween)…probably from here on out for the next 10 years or so. And largely because of the linked story, strangely enough. It turns a lot of heads when you show big growth during a downturn. A lot of heads.

Now, that’s the downside. The upside….

Think for a second about your history as a gamer. My own started on the 2600 about the age of 5. It’s been somewhat consistent since then, ranging from consoles to PCs to handhelds and back to to fully realized Console/PC/Mobile situation where I can pretty much have a solid platform to play on anywhere, for anywhen.

There is a whole generation like me. Some of you even posted in this thread. Many of us followed different paths in life, usually with a PC around somewhere. Some of us ended up in that place….making those games we dreamed about.

This is the generation of game designers and artists and industry that is *just now hitting its stride*. This is my generation of game-makers, and we’re farking awesome at it.

Mainly because if we suck at it, we’re not afraid to register our frustrations on the internet within seconds.

And since we just elected a President who collects comic books and plans to do a weekly YouTube address to the world….we’re in charge now. The geeks done took control.

Yea, the real world might suck some time, but we’ve learned we have the power of gods to create worlds of our own. The power of gods to decide that our world is a good one.

And after having wandered around a few of the ones my compatriots have created, may I say, and say solemnly…good show, sirs.

Good shows, indeed.

Military Industrial Complex Shuts Down Olbermann and Matthews on MSNBC (owned by GE)

(and Microsoft).  Microsoft doesn’t want to pay their taxes anymore than you do.

GE has a number of interests.  Some on them deeply involved in the could hundred billion dollars a year business of “defense”.   They don’t like Obama, or his change.

Oblermann and Mathews do.

So they’re gone.

MSNBC Takes Incendiary Hosts From Anchor Seat

MSNBC tried a bold experiment this year by putting two politically incendiary hosts, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, in the anchor chair to lead the cable news channel’s coverage of the election.

That experiment appears to be over.

After months of accusations of political bias and simmering animosity between MSNBC and its parent network NBC, the channel decided over the weekend that the NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host David Gregory would anchor news coverage of the coming debates and election night. Mr. Olbermann and Mr. Matthews will remain as analysts during the coverage.

The change — which comes in the home stretch of the long election cycle — is a direct result of tensions associated with the channel’s perceived shift to the political left.

Although MSNBC nearly doubled its total audience compared with the 2004 conventions, its competitive position did not improve, as it remained in last place among the broadcast and cable news networks. In prime time, the channel averaged 2.2 million viewers during the Democratic convention and 1.7 million viewers during the Republican convention.

The success of the Fox News Channel in the past decade along with the growth of political blogs have convinced many media companies that provocative commentary attracts viewers and lures Web browsers more than straight news delivered dispassionately.

“In a rapidly changing media environment, this is the great philosophical debate,” Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said in a telephone interview Saturday. Fighting the ratings game, he added, “the bottom line is that we’re experiencing incredible success.”

[full story]

The problem is that the “president of MSNBC” isn’t the presiden of MSNBC, of ya follow, as they are owned by other companies.  They are big gears in a bigger machine, and the bigger machine makes a whole lot more money the way things are, than they would if things were to change.

Real change.  So it’s pretty evident who they support in this election, and who represents a “changing of the guard” if you will…

BTW, this happened before.  Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Donahue’s final show will be Friday night. The news show that precedes him on the air, “Countdown: Iraq,” temporarily will be expanded to two hours to replace him.

“We’re proud of the program and we’re disappointed that the show was not able to attract the viewership we had hoped for and expected,” said Erik Sorenson, MSNBC president. “We thank Phil and his staff for their dedication, commitment and passion.”

Donahue’s office referred calls to his agent on Thursday, and he did not immediately return a call for comment.

The move was not a surprise. MSNBC hoped “Donahue” would provide a liberal counterweight to Fox News Channel’s competing “The O’Reilly Factor,” but the ratings started poorly and didn’t improve.

[full story]

Donahue was very much against the invasion of Iraq. It was an unpopular opinion at the time, both with the general public and his bosses (and their bosses). 

He’s still not so hot on it. 

I wonder what his ratings would be if he had been broadcasting for the last five years.  I wonder if we’d still be there now.  That’s how powerful a TV program can be.  Don’t fool yourself.  People can only make decisions on the information they have at hand.  Visual, visceral images can be *very powerful* forms of information.  Often the people who bring you information try to find experts to trust to analyze and simplify complex information and situations. 

We can’t all be experts at everything, but some of us try to be quick studies on as many things as possible.  And try to see how the inter-relate.  And try to see what is happening now.

We write journals about it.  Some people call us journalists.  Nowadays a subset of that group is called bloggers.  I thought this was important enough to write about.

Because I’ve seen it before.  I’ve seen the same people do the same thing.  And I’ve seen the result. 

 Interesting times, we have here, that’s for sure.