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MySpace: Lori Drew off the hook on conspiracy, convicted for computer fraud November 27, 2008

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New York Times, 27 November 2008

A federal jury here issued what legal experts said was the country’s first cyberbullying verdict Wednesday, convicting a Missouri woman of three misdemeanor charges of computer fraud for her involvement in creating a phony account on MySpace to trick a teenager, who later committed suicide.

The jury deadlocked on a fourth count of conspiracy against the woman, Lori Drew, 49, and the judge, George H. Wu of Federal District Court, declared a mistrial on that charge. (more)

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Verdict in MySpace Suicide Case November 27, 2008

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BBC, 27 November 2008

An American woman, accused of driving a teenage girl to suicide by bullying her on MySpace, has been cleared of one of the most serious charges against her.

Lori Drew, 49, was found not guilty of accessing a computer without authorisation to inflict emotional distress.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on another conspiracy charge.

She was convicted on three minor counts of violating the website’s terms and conditions.

Drew, from Missouri, was accused of posing as a boy on MySpace to befriend 13-year-old Megan Meier, who hanged herself after their virtual relationship ended.

The court in Los Angeles heard that Lori Drew was aware Megan suffered from depression and was emotionally fragile.

Drew was charged with violating MySpace’s terms of use, which ban users from assuming false identities and harassing other members.

The case is the first in the US relating to cyber-bullying.

Lori Drew could receive up to three years in prison when she is sentenced.

She would have faced a maximum 20 years if convicted of the more serious felony charges.

MySpace Case: Woman Who Posed as Boy Testifies in Case That Ended in Suicide of 13-Year-Old November 20, 2008

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New York Times, 20 November 2008

LOS ANGELES — Slumping forward miserably in the witness box, in barely audible tones, a young woman told a federal jury here on Thursday that she had posed as a teenage boy in a series of e-mail messages to a 13-year-old girl that ended in the girl’s expressing suicidal thoughts and hanging herself.

“You’re the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over,” the woman, Ashley Grills, said the 13-year-old girl, Megan Meier, wrote before taking her own life.

Testifying under an immunity agreement with federal prosecutors, Ms. Grills, 20, described how she came up with the idea to create a fake MySpace account with the identity of a cute teenage boy. The goal, she said, was to draw in Megan and learn about her and things she might have been saying about the teenage daughter of Ms. Grills’s friend and employer, Lori Drew.

Ms. Drew, who lives in a suburb of St. Louis and was a neighbor of the Meiers, is charged with conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress.

Legal experts believe the trial is an unprecedented use of computer fraud statutes to prosecute a case involving how people use a social networking site. Thomas O’Brien, the United States attorney here, asserted jurisdiction over a matter that local prosecutors in Missouri chose not to pursue — successfully arguing that he had jurisdiction because MySpace is based in Los Angeles, where its servers are housed.

In her testimony on the second day of Ms. Drew’s trial, Ms. Grills described how Ms. Drew had become angry with Megan for “spreading lies” about Ms. Drew’s daughter Sarah, and was eager to “expose” her. Ms. Grills, who worked at the Drew home, said she hatched the idea of creating a phony MySpace account, under the name Josh Evans, to communicate with Megan.

The original idea, Ms. Grills said, was to lure Megan to make nasty remarks about Sarah, which she and Ms. Drew would then present to Megan’s mother. But the idea morphed into other methods of humiliating the girl — devised by Ms. Drew, she said.

Ms. Grills said that she had expressed trepidation about creating a fake account, but that Ms. Drew had told her “that it was fine and that people do it all the time.” She added, “She was like a second mother to me, and I didn’t think she would do anything to get me in trouble.”

Things went awry, Ms. Grills said, after she sent an e-mail message with Ms. Drew’s blessing that said, “The world would be a better place without you.” It was an attempt, she said, to get Megan to stop communicating with the made-up Josh so the ruse could end.

Megan’s response, the message about suicide, had never been revealed by Ms. Grills until this week. Shortly after sending the message, Megan hanged herself on Oct. 16, 2006.

“It was something I didn’t want to remember,” said Ms. Grills, who said she had been hospitalized for depression after the suicide. “I pushed it out of my mind.”

As Ms. Grills told her story, Megan’s father, Ronald Meier, listened from the front row of the courtroom, rocking slightly and furiously dabbing at his eyes.

Ms. Drew’s defense lawyer, Dean Steward, carefully tried to unravel the credibility of Ms. Grills and others witnesses, including Megan’s mother, Christina Meier, whose testimony continued from Wednesday.

“Don’t you kind of have to say stuff they want to hear?” he said to Ms. Grills, motioning to prosecutors in a reference to her immunity agreement.

Mr. Steward suggested that Ms. Meier ought to have known better than to leave her daughter alone in her room after a nasty exchange of e-mail banter left the girl distraught. He said the antidepressant drugs her daughter had been taking were known to cause suicidal thoughts in teenagers.

“You let her run upstairs to the room alone,” Mr. Steward said to Ms. Meier.

The trial has also included testimony about the fallout for Ms. Drew after the case became public. A hairdresser testified about the irate phone calls her salon received for continuing to tend to the hair care of Ms. Drew, and an interior designer detailed both how she sold Ms. Drew blinds to block the hostile approaches of neighbors, while being hectored herself for continuing to advertise her business in a coupon book distributed by Ms. Drew.

Mr. O’Brien, the United States attorney, made the highly unusual choice to prosecute the case himself, punctuating his personal interest in the matter.

Should he succeed in convicting Ms. Drew, the case, while derided by critics as an overreach, would almost certainly be a game changer in the still-evolving world of social networking.

By essentially equating the violation of usage agreements with computer hacking into a computer, a guilty verdict in this case could have widespread implications for future prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, said Matthew Levine, a former federal prosecutor. Each of the three counts against Ms. Drew carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

MySpace Suicide Case Begins November 19, 2008

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MyFox Los Angeles, 19 November 2008

Los Angeles — A federal prosecutor says a Missouri mother hatched a plot with her daughter and an employee to stage an Internet hoax to prey on a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide.

U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien has told jurors during opening statements Wednesday that 49-year-old Lori Drew helped create a false identity account on the social networking site MySpace.

Drew is accused of harassing her young neighbor, Megan Meier, with cruel messages in what prosecutors say is the nation’s first cyber-bullying case.

Meier hanged herself in 2006 after allegedly receiving a message saying the world would be better off without her.

Drew has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing computers without authorization. Each count carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.

Judge to Allow ‘S-word’ at MySpace Trial November 17, 2008

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Law Blog, 17 November 2008

Last week, the judge in the MySpace suicide case had some concerns over whether the suicide of a 13 year-old girl was relevant to the crime charged. On Friday, U.S. District Judge George Wu apparently got past those concerns. He ruled that prosecutors can use evidence of the suicide in its case against Lori Drew. The trial is set to begin tomorrow.

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Judge George Wu, Jan. 19, 2006, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Robert Gauthier)

According to the AP, at the Friday hearing, Drew’s lawyer, Dean Steward, argued the suicide evidence would lead jurors to focus on the death, rather than whether Drew violated the terms of service of MySpace. He added: “The jury is going to end up thinking that Lori Drew is being tried for the death of Megan Meier.” Rather than making a reasoned decision, he said, “this jury is just going to decide this by sympathy.”

The charge against Drew — that she violated the MySpace terms of service — incorporates an allegation that she did it with an intent to harm. So AUSA Mark Krause reportedly argued that Drew is charged with joining in a conspiracy to cause intentional infliction of emotional distress. “Showing that this victim took the ultimate step of taking her own life shows the level of her distress,” Krause said.

Judge Wu reportedly responded that he was convinced many prospective jurors would be aware of the suicide from reading news reports or seeing a recent episode of the TV show “Law and Order” that involved a similar scenario. He said he would instruct jurors that the case was not about the suicide and that Drew is not charged with causing the suicide.

In MySpace Suicide Case, Judge May Exclude Suicide from Trial November 11, 2008

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Wall Street Journal – Law Blog, 11 Nov 2008

n the case we’ve come to call the ‘MySpace suicide’ case, how important is the ’suicide’ part? It appears that U.S. District Judge George Wu believes it’s not critical, and is leaning toward excluding the evidence of how 13 year-old Megan Meier hanged herself.

“I don’t necessarily think the suicide is relevant to the crime charged,” Wu said, according to the AP, adding he thought details of Meier’s death would unfairly prejudice the jury. He said he planned to announce his final decision Friday. The trial is set to kick off next Tuesday.

(For past LB coverage of the case, click here.)

Exclusion of the suicide would, of course, be a setback to the government. It would also highlight the divergence between the facts and the law. As Dean Steward, the lawyer for defendant Lori Drew, told us last week, the trial will be in two parts: the legal side, such as what the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act means and whether it can be triggered by violating the MySpace terms of service; and the factual side, the tragic death of a 13 year-old girl and the question of who caused it.

In what strikes us as another interesting twist to the upcoming trial, Steward attempted to waive Drew’s right to a jury trial, but prosecutors refused to assent to the waiver, resulting automatically, according to the AP report, in a jury trial. The prosecutors’ refusal to accept the jury waiver likely came as a surprise to Steward. Last week, he told the Law Blog he suspected the prosecutors would not oppose the jury waiver for fear of offending Judge Wu.

Megan Meier: Supporters gather on what would have been girl’s 16th birthday November 8, 2008

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Suburban Journals, 8 Nov 2008

About 50 people gathered Thursday evening to remember Megan Meier, who would have been 16 Thursday.

She most certainly, according to her mother, would have wasted no time in trying to obtain her driver’s license.

“She had talked about getting a car from probably the time she was 12 years old,” said Tina Meier, Megan’s mother. “So today is a hard day. But every day has been hard without her.”

The gathering was at a Dardenne Prairie baseball field on Hanley Road. A photo slide show of Megan’s life played across a sheet fixed to the back of the backstop.

There she was: a toddler with her new baby sister, Allison; a little girl before the Christmas tree; a basketball player at the Boys & Girls Club of St. Charles; and an eighth-grade volleyball player at Immaculate Conception Elementary School.

At times, her image on the sheet seemed to come alive, rolling with the wind.

Megan was 13 when she took her life in October 2006, the victim of a MySpace hoax involving an adult neighbor, Lori Drew, a family friend who had lived four doors away in Dardenne Prairie.

Drew, 49, is scheduled to go to trial for her role in the incident in Los Angeles Nov. 18.

“There are people who are not like Megan – who would not take their own life,” said Tina, 38. “Some people can walk away from it. But there are many who can’t.”

Cassie Thomas, 16, of St. Peters, recalled her friendship with Megan. She last saw Megan two months before her death. They saw a movie together.

“She just meant so much to me,” Cassie said. “She was a lot like me.”

“I was a good friend of hers,” said Brittany Osborn, 16, of O’Fallon. “I’m here to remember her and honor her. She was loving and easy to get along with.”

Those in attendance lit candles. Butch Moore, a family friend, sang “Who You’d Be Today,” written by Kenny Chesney. Some signed what Tina has called “The Megan Pledge,” which states, in part:

“I agree not to use technology as a weapon to hurt others.”

“I agree to think before I click.”

“I agree to think about the person on the other side.”

The goal is 1 million pledges. So far, Tina said, there are 425,000.

People said they came to remember Megan, or to support Tina, or the Meiers, or to support Vicki Dunn, of St. Peters, Tina’s aunt.

“We’re here in honor of Megan Meier and to help reduce cyberbullying – if we can in some small way – and to support the family,” said Jeff Brooks, 43, of Dardenne Prairie. His daughter is a friend of Allison Meier, 12.

Megan Meier Case: Lori Drew loses motion for a bench trial November 6, 2008

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St. Louis Today, 6 Nov 2008

Lori Drew, accused of cyber-bullying a teen who later committed suicide, tried but failed Wednesday to get a federal criminal case against her heard by a judge instead of a jury.

Her lawyer, H. Dean Steward, said she waived her right to a jury trial but that prosecutors, whose agreement is required, refused.

St. Louis area prosecutors had said they found no charge applicable to the circumstances. But the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles obtained an indictment in May that charged Drew, formerly of Dardenne Prairie, with unlawfully accessing MySpace computers in the process of harassing her daughter’s rival down the street.

Steward also is trying to keep any mention of the 2006 suicide of Megan Meier, 13, out of the trial, which is set for Nov. 18.

Man Who Lost Son to Cyberbullying Teaches Students About Issue November 6, 2008

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Fox44, 6 Nov 2008, updated 10 Nov 2008

Teens from across Vermont were in Montpelier Thursday to learn about the effects of cyberbullying.  One of the people they heard from knows about the effects first hand. John Halligan’s son Ryan would be about the same age as some of the high school students he spoke to.

“A wonderful sweet, gentle, kind, empathetic boy…I mean he was the kind of kid that he made friends quick. People liked being with him but there was a vulnerability of Ryan, he was a bit of a sensitive kid,” Halligan said, describing his son.

Ryan Halligan, 13, was a middle school student in Essex Junction, Vt., when he commited suicide in 2003.  After his death, his father John discovered he was being bullied online, through instant messaging in the months before his death.

“I think they feel a lot more comfortable in a cyber space world to do things that are far more detrimental and far more damaging to the well being of a peer, because there is no immediate accountability or consequence,” Halligan said.

Halligan works to make children and teens more aware of cyber bullying by sharing his son’s story like he did at A World Of Difference Institute on Thursday.  Tony Sulva, a senior at Champlain Valley High School, says it’s an important issue to talk about as he worked with some of his peers at the event.

“It’s not really saying it to the actual person, but really it’s kind of the same communication, just not face to face,” Sulva said.

Sulva also said there are many forms of technology used for bullying.

“Email, cell phone texting, instant messanger, and web sites like Facebook and MySpace,” Sulva said.

A bullying prevention law was passed in Vermont in 2004, and Halligan said the laws are evolving, but aren’t the complete solution.

Steve Jobs Heart Attack Rumor Started On 4Chan By A Teenager November 5, 2008

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The Common Sense Investor, October 2008

On October 3rd, a rumor that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had a heart attack sent Apple’s stock crashing down from $105.04 per share to $94.65 per share, equaling a loss of $9 billion in market value. All that in just 10 minutes. That shows how important Steve Jobs is to Apple. It also shows how fragile the market is at times.

Generally, when a fake news story has a substantial impact on the value of a company’s stock, the SEC gets involved. And that’s just what they did this time. Manipulating the value of a stock for your personal gain is a crime with some hefty penalties, so the SEC tried to trace the story and see if it’s originator had any financial reasons for starting the rumor. It turns out he didn’t.

The story made it’s way to CNN’s iReport.com, which is where it really started to hit the mainstream news, but it’s origin was a tad less respectable: an 18 year-old kid posting on 4Chan as a prank.

Here’s the complete post from CNN’s iReport “Citizen Journalist” Web site:
“Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack,” said the false report. “I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.”

#@*!!! Anonymous anger rampant on Internet November 4, 2008

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CNN, 3 November 2008

There’s a whole world of people out there, and boy, are they pissed off.

On political blogs, the invective flies. Posters respond to the latest celebrity gossip with mockery or worse. Sports fans set up Web sites with names that begin with “fire,” hoping coaches, athletic directors and sportscasters lose their jobs.

And though there are any number of bloggers and commenters who attempt to keep their postings and responses on a civil level, all too often interactive Web sites descend into ad hominem attacks, insults and plain old name-calling. Indeed, there are even whole sites devoted to venting, such as justrage.com (one screed there was titled, “I don’t give a flying f***, so f*** you”) and mybiggestcomplaint.com.

This is not a world Emily Post would want to be caught in after dark.

“The Internet can be a great tool,” said Sara Black, a professor of health studies at St. Joseph’s University who takes a particular interest in online bullying. “Like any tool, it can also be misused.” (more)

New Cyberbullying Study October 25, 2008

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21st Century Sheep, October 2008

A new study out of the University of California in Los Angeles finds cyberbullying is more common than previously thought. Almost 75% of teens reported some cyberbullying during the prior 12 months. The most common type of bullying was name calling. That didn’t surprise me, but the second most common type did. The second most common tactic was password theft. If someone steals or guesses your password they can send email in your name, visit websites and make it look like it was you, or edit an online profile and post untrue and unflattering information.

Lori Drew’s lawyers seek to toss cyber-bully case October 22, 2008

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TradingMarkets.com, 21 Oct 2008

Lawyers representing Lori Drew, the mother who is accused of using the social networking site MySpace to help cyber-bully a teen who then killed herself, filed a motion Monday seeking to throw out the indictment against her.

Prosecutors said Drew and others schemed in 2006 to humiliate Megan Meier, 13, a neighbor in Dardenne Prairie, using a fake teenage boy’s identity on MySpace.

Megan was first a friend, then a “rival” of Drew’s daughter, prosecutors have said.

Federal and state prosecutors in the St. Louis area said they found no charge to apply against Drew, but the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, where MySpace is based, obtained indictments accusing her of one count of conspiracy and three counts of illegally accessing protected computers.

Prosecutors say Drew violated MySpace’s terms of service, which prohibit lying when registering, soliciting information from someone under 18 and harassing other users.

In the motion filed Monday, her attorneys argue that the government must do more than simply allege that the terms of service were violated.

“The fatal flaw in the government’s case is that MySpace knew perfectly well at all time exactly what it was doing,” the motion says. “MySpace knew that it was providing an account to users who might or might not comply with the Terms of Service. Most users violate Terms of Service frequently, as MySpace is surely aware.”

Drew’s attorneys also argue that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which Drew is accused of violating, should not be used to punish “everything bad that happens on the Internet.” They also contend the indictment should be tossed because no theft was committed and the law Drew is being charged under requires a theft, as well as that recent legislation implies the law does not apply when the defendant and victim are in the same state.

It was not clear late Monday when a judge could rule on the motion.

Lori Drew trial may start Nov. 18 October 8, 2008

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8 Oct 2008

The criminal case against Lori Drew, accused of helping to cyber-bully a St. Louis area teen who then killed herself, appears to be headed for a November trial date, court documents filed Monday suggest.

(full story)

New Cyberbulllying Suit says Internet harassment put teenage girl into psychiatric care October 8, 2008

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St. Louis Post Dispatch, 8 Oct 2008

Clayton — The father of a teenage girl says in a lawsuit that a cyber bully so unnerved her with online taunts that she ended up admitted to a mental health clinic.

The 16-year-old girl is not named in the suit, in St. Louis County Circuit Court in Clayton. Her father’s lawyer, Joe Jacobson, said the identity of the defendant is not known with certainty.

The suit seeks reimbursement for medical expenses in excess of $25,000 and asks that a judge order the Internet social network Facebook and Web portal Live.com to provide information about who sent the messages.

The circumstances are reminiscent of the case of Megan Meier, 13, of Dardenne Prairie, who hanged herself in 2006 after a fictitious boyfriend turned against her in MySpace correspondence.

Lori Drew, the mother of a former friend of Megan’s, is expected to be tried in November in regard to that incident on federal charges of conspiracy and accessing MySpace computers without authorization.

Megan’s death prompted Missouri to create a new crime of Internet harassment, a felony for people over 21 and a misdemeanor for those younger.

The girl in the case Jacobson filed had already undergone outpatient treatment for 22 days in June and July for a psychiatric condition characterized, in part, by an obsessive relationship with a teenage boy, the suit said.

Someone using the fictitious name “Jennifer Litzinger” then created the Facebook account “for the purpose of creating a purported rival” for the boy’s affections, the suit alleges.

Asked about the identity of “Litzinger,” Jacobson said: “There are suspicions. We want good evidence that points firmly at somebody before we proceed.”

The lawsuit says “Litzinger” used a photo “of a well-endowed and attractive model or actress of the approximate age of 20 to 22 obtained over the Internet as her profile photograph so that (the victim), an ordinary attractive 16-year-old, would feel inferior to her purported rival with respect to her physical attractiveness.”

The suit also says that on the day before the teen was to finish outpatient treatment in July, she got multiple communications from “Litzinger.” Those said “Litzinger” had been talking and texting with the boyfriend every day and night, was more attractive than the teen, and that the teen “looked like a troll” and had “a worthless life.”

According to the suit, “Litzinger” knew the teen “would be severely emotionally distressed by the statements.”

The teen was taken to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center for a four-day admission to stabilize her condition, the suit says, and then she entered the Menninger Residential Clinic in Houston, where she remained until Sept. 16.

Her father, who lives in west St. Louis County, declined through his lawyer to comment to a reporter. The suit was filed Sept. 19.

The girl “is doing much better since Texas, but she is still very, very fragile,” Jacobson said.