For many teens and pre-teens, the Internet is an integral part of daily life for social gathering and meeting up with friends. Problems can arise for kids when parents aren’t aware of what’s going on online.
This was evidenced when Facebook was subpoenaed after complaints that minors were being solicited for sex using its site.
More recently, a 13-year-old girl from Missouri named Megan Meier killed herself after she received a critical message on MySpace.
The New York Times claims Megan's 47-year-old neighbor, Lori Drew, gained access to an 18-year-old's Myspace user account that Megan believed to be a boy named Josh. However, nobody is admitting if Drew or the minor left the final messages that drove Meier to suicide.
Using the Josh account the 18-year-old woman left a message on Megan’s MySpace page accusing her of being mean to her friends. According to CNN messages on Megan’s MySpace page were mundane matters, like which sports the two enjoyed.
Jack Banas, Prosecuting Attorney for St. Charles County Missouri said the messages changed in tone on October 15, 2006. Someone using the Josh account posted a message saying Meier was mean to her friends and added "I don’t know if I want to be your friend anymore."
Later that week the person using the “Josh” account left another message saying, “This place would be better without you.” Megan’s mother reported finding Megan at the computer crying when she returned home and when trying to find out why Megan was upset, the mother criticized Megan for inappropriate language used in her postings on MySpace.
Megan reportedly remarked to her mother, “I can’t believe you’re not on my side” and ran upstairs. Megan was later found upstairs where she had died from hanging herself. According to Banas, there is no proof that the users of the “Josh” account intended to cause Meier emotional harassment that a jury would believe. Prosecutors also point out that the Missouri harassment statute doesn’t cover the Internet and state stalking statutes require repeated conversations therefore neither statute applied in this case.
Banas says just because he can’t prosecute this instance doesn’t mean no one gets punished. He later told CNN, “The loss of a life of a person that they once talked to as a friend, I'm sure, is just twisting them all up inside.”
Banas might be right, but Drew sure isn't showing it. In another report to the local authorities, Drew stated that she felt the hoax “contributed to Megan’s
suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty’ because at the funeral she
found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”
Analysts are split in their feelings on where the blame lies in this case. Others feel that if the simple statements made on Megan’s MySpace page that were reported were enough to drive her to suicide, there were much larger issues going on in Megan’s life her parents should have noticed.
The 47-year-old who posed (or at least endorsed the 18-year-old to pose) as Josh claimed she created the account to see what opinions Megan Meier had about her daughter, another teenager.
The only thing that anyone can agree on is that Megan’s death could have been prevented.