Thursday, January 10, 2008

Post has many more details on Missouri cyber-hoax tragedy today

The case of Internet cyber bullying, resulting in the suicide of Missouri 13-year-old Megan Meier in October 2006 after a neighbor had set up a hoax impersonating a boy friend who would then "reject" her online, has stirred up renewed debate this week on Internet freedom, anonymity and privacy. I had written in detail about this incident on this blog Dec. 2 and provided many links. Dr. Phil had a show about it this week. And there are new, however unconvincing, developments on the legal front about possible prosecution.

Today, Thursday Jan. 10, The Washington Post has a long story by Tamara Jones on p. c1, "A Deadly Web of Deceit: A Teen's Online 'Friend' Proved False, And Cyber-Vigilantes Are Avenging Her," link here. The story has a slide show.

One important aspect of the story is that the details of what actually happened in the Drew family and who actually perpetrated the hoax seem obscure. There are now several accounts in print and on the Internet, and this Post story provides the most detailed account I've seen yet.

Today, Jan. 10, at 11 AM EST, law professor Daniel J. Solove will discuss this case online on the Washington Post. The discussion will be called "Privacy, Free Speech and Anonymity on the Internet." The link is here. Solove is an associate law professor at George Washington University and author of "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet." The book is published by Yale University Press and available for immediate order on Amazon. I just ordered it now, and will cover it soon on my books blog.

The Los Angeles Times has a story about a new effort at federal prosecution (with a grand jury convening in LA) "L.A. grand jury issues subpoenas in Web suicide case," story by Scott Glover and P. J. Huffstutter, January 9, 2007, link here. The story contains an Associated Press video of the story (1:50 in length).

It's interesting; I met a GWU law student randomly on the Metro in Washington yesterday and we had a discussion about this matter on COPA. How the chance coincidences pile up. I graduated from GW myself (BS Math) in 1966.

This case is not so much about "reputation" as other stories have presented it (social networking profiles, blogs, videos, and material submitted by others) as it is about deliberate manipulation of another minor's need for social validation.

Teenagers become attached to the mechanisms that the civilization around them provides in order to have a source of identity. Today, many teenagers presume that one must meet people through social networking sites. When I was a boy, somewhat introverted, I got a lot of identity from collecting classical phonograph records, an activity that represented the technology of the 1950s and 1960s. The principles remain the same, but the details change and become more dangerous.

Picture (at top): old movie projector (in back corner) at Woodrow Wilson House in Washington DC. Below: GWU Hospital, Washington DC (unrelated).

Update: Jan 18, 2008

The New Yorker, Jan. 21 2008, has an article by Lauren Collins, "Annals of Crime: Friend Game: Behind the online hoax that led to a girl's suicide," p. 34, link here.

Update: Feb. 8, 2008

USA Today has a list of state laws on cyber-bullying, here.

A related story there by Albert Koloff is here.

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