Megan Meier was a 13-year girl who, like most teens, wanted to be liked by others. Sadly for her, she befriended a manipulative family, the Drews’. The Drews’ had a daughter who was Megan’s friend for a time. And then they became ex-friends.
Lori Drew of O’Fallon, MO apparently wanted to spy on what her daughter’s ex-friend had to say about her daughter. How to do that? Create a fake male profile on Myspace (“Josh”) and gain the confidence of her daughter’s ex-friend, Megan.
According to the police report, “[Lori Drew] explained the communication between the fake male profile and Megan was aimed at gaining Megan’s confidence and finding out what Megan felt about her daughter and other people.”
Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong.
Later that day, Ron opened his daughter’s MySpace account and viewed what he believes to be the final message Megan saw – one the FBI would be unable to retrieve from the hard drive.
It was from Josh and, according to Ron’s best recollection, it said, “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”
‘”I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up into her room and she had hung herself in the closet.” Megan Taylor Meier died the next day, three weeks before her 14th birthday.’
No criminal charges are being filed in the case (as of yet) and it’s hard to say that there isn’t more to the story than what we know. But it’s clear here that Myspace was used to bully or harass someone, maybe as a joke, maybe for some other reason. Allegedly multiple Drew family members logged in, read, and replied in the “Josh” Myspace account.
The problem is that some people don’t see such behaviors as jokes. And young teens are especially vulnerable to hateful things said to them (especially by someone who they might be led to believe likes them). Megan was apparently already suffering from self-esteem issues and depression before this incident.
Philip recounts his own Myspace horror story over at Furious Seasons, which describes the significant effort and frustration he had in trying to get a group of people who had targeted him disciplined or removed from the service. Apparently the last thing Myspace offers its users is decent customer service, and why shouldn’t that be a surprise?
In fact, one of the dirty little secrets of most social networks online is that very few of them know the first thing about online behavior and community, two vital components when running such a service. They pay a few college students, interns, or foreign-based customer service representatives to answer emails related to the community, with little training or formal organizational support. They intervene only after some time and a significant amount of effort is expended. Some services, citing misguided “free speech” concerns, refuse to remove even the most intimidating or harassing of members (or their posts or pages).
There must be a balance between a member’s individual rights online and the rights of everyone else. Companies that ignore their own members’ concerns and complaints deserve to have their users leave their service as people realize it is little more than a cesspool of ad-plastered chaos.
The guise of anonymity (or pseudonymity) online is a very enticing mask that empowers people to act and say things they ordinarily would never do or say in person. Would Mom Smith ever imagine trying to get away with her fake boy identity in real life? Would someone who insults another person online have the same inclination to do so to their face? No, and for these reasons and more, we have to be careful in mediating our own behaviors and words online as much as possible. Especially since rarely is the anonymity we take for granted online very strong.