Being A Total Jerk Online Still Isn't Criminal

from the and-so-it-goes dept

Last week, we wrote about the unfortunate situation of the girl in Missouri who committed suicide after some others who knew her created a fake MySpace profile of a boy who befriended her and then turned on her and told her she was mean and he didn’t want to be friends with her. As we noted, there was a push to find or make new laws to punish those who had participated, but in the end, prosecutors are noting that no criminal charges will be filed because no actual laws were broken. Yes, it’s a tragic situation, but it is not against the law to be a jerk. Of course, those who participated still have to deal with the consequences of what they did — including attacks from a virtual posse. In the end, this is the right thing. What happened was awful, but you can’t bring criminal charges against people for just being mean, otherwise the courts (and jails) would be even more ridiculously overburdened than they already are.

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Comments on “Being A Total Jerk Online Still Isn't Criminal”

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60 Comments
Max Hansen (user link) says:

We have law to handle this.

Mike, I’m less keen on the virtual posse than you. If there’s any redress to be had here, I hope it can be through the courts rather than through vigilante justice.

Although the “tort of outrage” isn’t very popular with judges, it still exists in most states, and this case is probably one where it fits.

I happen to believe the tort of outrage should be respected more, used more, and misused less. It’s potentially a very powerful tool we can use in order not to have to explicitly proscribe every conceivable form of vile behaviour.

Note that I did a couple of videos about a near-lynch-mob situation that cropped up on YouTube this summer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually there are laws against this kind of behavior. (The being a jerk, not the grammer).
If the people knew that the victim was emotionally distressed, and knew or should have known that their behavior could cause the girl to commit suicide, then they could have been held liable. Here, the Prosecutor did not find that the behavior was geared towards this end, so rightly did not bring charges.
However, there may still be grounds for a civil suit by the parents, which they most likely will win some ridiculous amount.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Suicide

> If the people knew that the victim was
> emotionally distressed, and knew or should
> have known that their behavior could cause
> the girl to commit suicide, then they could
> have been held liable.

Well, the point is, that even though they were being tremendous asshats, the people taunting the girl DIDN’T know any of that. Even the girl’s parents didn’t know she was suicidal. If they had, they would have made sure she didn’t commit suicide, dontcha think?

Anonymous Coward says:

The ability of a commentator to use the English language in an effective manner could be a subject for a very interesting debate. Unfortunately this is probably not the forum for it. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), I tend to judge the content by how professionally, or otherwise, it is presented. The odd typo isn’t a real problem. The refusal, or inability, to learn the correct usage of common words is, (e.g. then/than).

As for the content of the message, I would agree, it is probable that no laws were broken. To some extent, I like the idea of the “virtual posse” although it could have some potentially nasty side effects. For instance, what if somebody claims to have been wronged but is not entirely truthful in their claims and the posse ruins an innocent person’s life?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Get the word out

Oh yes, she must be having delusions because it’s so obvious that the media always reports the absolute truth and gets everything right all the time.

Come on people. Open your eyes. After checking it out, I can say for sure that there was no crime, and that the defendants have nothing to feel guilty about.

Read both sides of the story and always question the overly hyped media before passing judgment.

drbuzz0 (user link) says:

Her death is sad but it's not the fault of who tau

I’m really glad that there won’t be any prosecutions in this, as I was afraid they might take another stab at freedom and try to protect us all from hurt feelings. There’s no law against disliking people or even treating them like dirt. People need thicker skin than that. At best, this woman could be sued for it, but criminal? certainly not. And I hope she is not sued either.

We need to start having thicker skin and taking some responsibility. The ultimate person who ended this girls life was herself. Okay, that might sound harsh but it’s also the way it is. She was young though and therefore she might not be fairly held accountable for her actions completely. A child is supposed to be guided and protected by their parents until they can make decisions on their own. Her parents obviously did not play a proactive part in her life, talk to her, take concern in her online activities or get her the help she apparently needed.

Lets start taking some more responsibility in this world. It’s not the fault of someone who is rude or nasty to you or hurts your precious little feelings if you can’t deal with it.

Rob says:

The only real crime I see...

Is the girls parents being blatantly unaware of what their child is doing online, and putting a stop to it. Parents need to watch their kids on the internet, and even talk to them about day to day things. If they’d have been more involved in what she was doing on MySpace this probably never would of happened. Now if this gets out of hand and our government gets legislation hungry on this, we’ll have more stupid money wasted on trying to write internet laws that most politicians don’t even understand.

Barrenwaste (profile) says:

First, if you feel the neihbors were at fault, then you probably shouldn’t read this. Better yet, read this and develop something akin to moral fiber.

Now, the neihbors didn’t break any laws. If you read anything that deals with the online conversations not a single sexualy inapropriate thing was said by the Josh persona. In fact, the people operating the Josh persona intentionally lead the conversations away from that sort of thing. So, no law broken.

Also, it is indeed against the law to say certain things about people….unless those things are true. From what I can dig up, they only accused her of things she did. Once again, not illegal.

Finally, people can be sued for “causing” another to commit suicide (stupid law if ever there was one), but there has to be shown cause. The worst that was said were a few vulgarities and the phrase “would be better off without you”. Not exactly motivation to kill ones self.

The neihbors did something rude, but if you listen to all of what was going on you find nothing more than people being people. No criminal intent, no sexual assault, no grounds for suicide. The worst that happened were a few obscenities and the Josh persona saying he was better off without her. Hmm, sounds like a normal day in any American city to me. The only person at fault was the girl who killed herself and, if you insist on pointing fingers, her parents. Though I would have to say that thier actions were typical of the american family as well.

In the end, the neihbors have more cause for lawsuit than the “victims” family. They were absolved of culpibility and yet they are still recieving threats via the internet and “outraged” citizens. Nice to know that america can stand up for something, to bad it isn’t for what is morally right.

On a seperate, yet related topic, it’s about time that “virtual posses” like the one that threatened the neihbors and, most especialy, the “To Catch a Predator” people were prosecuted. What they do is illegal and yet people praise them. Look into the statistics, the numbers, the facts, and you find that they help virtually no one and ruin the lives of a great many. If you want an internet crusade then take them to task. All the things said, incorrectly, about the neihbors CAN be laid at the feet of these people and yet the public hail them as heroes. That’s irony for you.

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Posses

> it’s about time that “virtual posses” like
> the one that threatened the neihbors and,
> most especialy, the “To Catch a Predator”
> people were prosecuted. What they do is illegal

What the “Catch a Predator” people (the organization is called Peverted Justice) do is NOT illegal. Hell, they work with the cops and prosecutors on a regular basis. If what they do is a crime, don’t you think they’d have been stopped and arrested by now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Barrenwaste

The predator catchers are different in that the people they are attacking are doing something illegal and, well, just plain wrong.

16 I can understand, wasn’t too long since I was 16. But… jeez man, it’s just… wrong at 14 and under… anyway people who haven’t fully matured yet look awkward and shitty. And they have too damn many issues. And it’s too easy to hurt them.

Go pedophile catchers.

PaulT (profile) says:

I have to admit I’m a little disturbed by this turn of events. Now, I don’t know everything that happened, but my interpretation of events is that those parents were suspicious of what the girl was saying, created a fake online persona to befriend and question here, then started responding with harsh attacks. Maybe not harsh to an adult, but to a confused, lonely teenage girl, definitely harsh.

My problems with these things are as follows. Firstly, while driving the girl to suicide was not the intention, that was definitely the cause. If this had been in the physical world and the interactions had taken place at a party, somebody would probably be held accountable, even if it was just people carrying on with the party while the girl killed herself being charged with some kind of negligence.

The other thing that concerns me is that creating a fake persona and doing pretty much anything else immoral online would be prosecuted. If anything remotely sexual had been suggested, or a fake meeting arranged, this couple would go down under pedophile laws. If they had made suggestions to the girl to pirate movies or download a virus or they had posted libellous comments on a company website, they could be prosecuted. But, since “all” they did was drive a girl over the edge of suicide, they get away scott free? That’s simply not right.

Surely there’s some kind of harrassment or stalking law that can be used? These parents are clearly not good role models for their daughter, and if they were willing to do this simply to understand a falling out between a couple of teenage girls (who often don’t have a rational reason for such things), what will they be willing to do with the future boyfriends or employers?

john says:

Get over it

The interaction seems like a typical teenage break-up to me. It wasn’t too long ago for me that I had to deal with that shit. If you want to hold the neighbors responsible then you would have to hold any girl or guy that broke up with someone responsible if the aforementioned person committed suicide. It surely wasn’t right what they did but to continue this bullshit about complaining is ridiculous. If they had truly done something of a criminal intent and level then you can bet that the District Attorney would be filling every charge even semi-related to the actions that took place in fact even if they did nothing wrong the D.A. still might be filling lawsuits however this is not the case and is a reason to step back and realize that you are not getting the full story and it is likely not a one sided story as some people are making it out to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Multiple adults conspiring to create a fictional child account with which to flirt with another child and then emotionally manipulate and torture said child and clearly intentionally drive them to the edge hardly qualifies as “merely being a jerk”.

If an adult did in meat-space to a child what these adults did from down the street, heads would roll. This isn’t an issue of “if I say you stink and smell and I hate your guts and you go home and slit your wrists, am I criminally responsible?”. This is an issue of conspiring ADULTS systematically destroying a child.

Stupid Parents Suck says:

The only people responsible here are Megan’s close friends, family, and parents. The only people close enough to witness personality changes over time that indicate a person is mentally unstable and needs help. No person suddenly ever decides within an instant to kill themselves. The girl obviously needed help for a long time with her attitude and personality and her family never got Megan professional help she needed. So her parents were in denial of Megan’s condition instead of accepting it and getting her the proper help she needed.

The fake MySpace sudo boyfriend breakup is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

The sad fact here, as with 99% of all stupid tragedy crap in the news and the courts, is that its easier for us to point the finger at someone else than to take the responsibility. Parents need to start PARENTING.

Blame the gun makers, blame the video games, blame fake boyfriend breakups, whatever. Blame the freaking parents for once! They are the MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSONALITIES IN A CHILDS LIFE!

Jack Sombra says:

No legal crime? Maybe But one hell of a social one

“Well, the point is, that even though they were being tremendous asshats, the people taunting the girl DIDN’T know any of that. Even the girl’s parents didn’t know she was suicidal. If they had, they would have made sure she didn’t commit suicide, dontcha think?”
Only problem is, except for the suicidal part (no one knew that) they DID know all the rest.

They knew they were dealing with an emotionally disturbed/depressed hormonal 13 year old girl, and as any parent or right thinking adult knows, that is playing with fire

And even they did not, what adult in their right mind does the crap they did to any 13 year old disturbed or not? And even worse see’s nothing wrong with it after the fact with it’s associated consequences?

This woman deserves everything bad coming her way, the only sad thing is her kid will also suffer the fallout for her stupid acts. My only hope is they send the daughter away to live with relatives, not only to protect her from the lynch mob but also from her own mother, because if the mother is like this I dread to think what kind of warped and screwed up values she is instilling in her children

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Everyone’s attacking this woman like vicious dogs without even getting the other side of the story straight.

They linked it here but I’ll link it again: http://meganhaditcoming.blogspot.com/

Go on, it’s a long read, but after it I seriously think you’ll reconsider your position on the matter and question what it was you actually read in the media.

Celes says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, I see. This is the blog where Lori *admits* that she knew that Megan had mental problems and taunted her anyhow, but not until first posing as a random teen to tell everyone what a horrible bitch the dead girl was and how she deserved what she got (just read the URL). Were her actions illegal? No. But you can’t possibly be saying that what she did was RIGHT… can you?

Anonymous of Course says:

Stigma

One of the most effective means of moderating
behavior is peer pressure.

I hope the people involved in this sad event
spend the rest of their lives with an albatross
around their necks. As a warning for others that
might commit such repulsive acts.

The psychopathic parents involved are beyond
redemption but they could serve as example for
others. It’s the only positive outcome I can
imagine.

May they bear the stigma until the end of days
for this cruel, ruthless, despicable act.

Anonymous Coward says:

Her side?, just pathetic excuses

I agree, there should not be criminal charges for causing a suicide, but there should be something to deter adults from harrassing children, whether online or off, the girls parents should have been doing more to monitor what was going on. This was handled very poorly.

but…

Her side is absolutely ridiculous, it is one thing when kids are bullying kids, but a grown woman attacking a 13 year old? come on! I agree with an above poster, if this was the father doing it, he would be in jail. This woman needs a figgin job and stop pretnding like she is 13 again. it sounds to me like this woman is equivalent to the mom in Mean Girls. I really hope she is happy, and if she truly feels no guilt about this, then she is hardly human. She should have provided the proper guidance to her daughter to handle such a situation.

And those of you who think an adult grown woman causing this level of mental distress on a 13 year for revenge is OK, then I really hope you never have kids or are around kids, or other human beings for that matter.

Do you hang out at the middle school and ty to steal lunch money? hey you could block the the ladder to a slide just to make some 6 year olds cry too. get a life

Barrenwaste (profile) says:

RE: RE: posses by BTR1701

It is illegal. Look at how many cases they get thrown out of court just because of that. If you look you’ll find that more than 90 percent of the people they “catch” are either aquited or released due to the nature of the “capture”. Not only that, but they are guilty of libel, loss of livelyhood, the very acts of pedophilia they accuse the “predators” of, and so on and so forth. They troll around all day pretending to be kids and try to engage others pretending to be kids in sexual chat. That means they are actually going to get messed up kids, as well as messed up adults. Thier defense is that they check the people in question out thouroghly before they engage in the sexual chat, but that’s not truthful nor entirely possible. Now they are running into cases where other adults are doing the same as they are and the worst that happens is some role-play and the adults looking to collar the perverted justice people. Then you have to take into account that most of the people they “chat” with never end up doing anything. They chat some, getting more sexual and the “predator” becomes uncomfortable with it and leaves. The perverted justice people continue the chase though, often finding where the “predator” lives and leaving signs, threats, and telling neihbors. Even though no crime was comitted. Good thing that “predator” was stopped.

No, the true predators are the Perverted Justice people. I’ve done a little looking and they are being sued, by a couple hundred people. GOOD! Now we just hope the lawsuits are succesful and the those people are stopped permanently and required to pay heavy fines and jail sentences.

memorabilia says:

Wow, it’s amazing to see the groomers and molesters show up and represent for the Drew’s. It’s even a tad bit telling to see them compare perverted justice to the rather universal outrage felt at the Drew’s for their unspeakable behavior.

Apparently, to the PJ haters and pedophiles, universal revulsion isn’t something society is entitled to. This Drew woman should be pilloried, virtually at least. Her vile actions had horrible results. Her public behavior may not have criminal repercussions, but the that doesn’t preclude civil action or social action.

She performed this behavior in public, a girl died as the result. Now sympathizers think Drew is off the hook? If I lived in her town, I’d make sure she knew she wasn’t welcome in my shop. If I lived on her street, there’d be a sign on my lawn explaining just how welcome the myspace murdering mother is at my house.

Tell me, how does that make me a posse or a vigilante?

Barrenwaste says:

Barrenwaste by Anonymous Coward

I agree. People who are a threat to children should be stopped. But that’s the thing. In thier crusade to find these people, Perverted Justice is destroying the lives of hundreds of innocents to catch a mere handful of criminals. That is not Justice no matter how you look at it. What they do is illegal and wrong, and the country has turned them into heroes. It’s disgusting. People, if you see a crime, report it. If you hear of one, report it. That is civic responsibility. You do not, however, have the responsibility or right to chase and harass people you “think” have comitted a crime. That is the job of the police and they are much better at it than you. Let them do thier job. Lives and families will be saved.

Bill says:

Re:#45

#45 “why does everyone think this girl was “mentally ill”?”

Answer:
“She had attention deficit disorder and battled depression. Back in third grade she had talked about suicide, Tina [Megan’s Mother] says, and ever since had seen a therapist..”

“According to Tina, Megan had gone on vacations with this family [the Drews]. They knew how she struggled with depression, that she took medication.”

Reference link:
http://stcharlesjournal.stltoday.com/articles/2007/11/10/news/sj2tn20071110-1111stc_pokin_1.ii1.txt

Clueby4 says:

Bray loudly sheep

Screw that, I’m sorry but why it’s it society’s responsibility to raise and protect your crotchfruit.

The parents should have been aware of their child’s condition and acted accordingly. Giving her unmonitored access to the internet demonstrates quite clearly that they had very little concern for the well being of their child.

I don’t care what the “other” people did and a reasonable person would not have been exposed to a situation like that so this falls into a lowest common denominator scenario that should not exist.

Simply put, if you can be induced into killing yourself by reading words on the internet you should be removed from society for your and our protection

dorpass says:

Re: Bray loudly sheep

More idiocy.

“I don’t care what the “other” people did and a reasonable person would not have been exposed to a situation like that so this falls into a lowest common denominator scenario that should not exist.”

Riight. Reasonable people don’t normally get exposed to armed robbery, yet we still have innocent people robbed, wounded and killed. But since it’s not all that common, we shouldn’t do anything about it anyways. That’s what the Second Amendment is for, right? Pathetic.

Tina says:

Pedophile

How would Lori Drew feel if a 40-something man pretended to be a 16-year old boy talking to her 13-year old daughter and wanting to be her “boyfriend”? That is no different to what she is doing. Pedophiles often groom and stay clear of sex talk until several months of chatting and gaining the trust of their victim. Then after the trust has been gained after several months, then they go all in sex-wise.

Lori is a perfect example of a child sex offender and should immediately lose custody of her daughter and be put in jail for a long time.

DMNTD says:

geez..

You all want to be involved…this is just as bad with the whole music issue. Millions of people millions of paths…but this one instance that was used as such a beautiful distraction liken to MJ passing on recently, oh man higher ups had a free for all with our rights.

Get your brain centers out of your crevices. Stop smelling your farts and if you say ANYTHING about going green, I WILL kill myself(interpretation?) and then my “people” will look up all your ip’s and then we will take you all to court for my admitted slaughter on the internet. I’m horrified that you people live here..I now never will wonder how we got here. Thank you.

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