Social media has really gotten a bad rap lately. Rumors surrounding one’s privacy on Facebook and controversy about Google when young people reveal too much information (and skin) about themselves, are just two of the many scandals that have plagued SM sites. Yahoo felt it even had to post an e-article to parents outlining perimeters in terms of displaying their children’s photographs, and what not. It’s all about the security (and stupidity) of people and SM. SM also faces criticism for isolating its users by replacing real relationships and reducing SM user’s social skills. Nevertheless, the number of addicted SM users is growing and shows no sign of slowing down. Facebook adds half a million new users every day. At present it has 1 billion users (of course this doesn’t account for people with multiple accounts).
Here is an extreme example of bloggers who misused SM in a baffling effort to emotionally abuse a young girl and tragically succeeded.
Ron and Tina Meier, a tool-and-die maker and real estate agent respectively, were childhood sweethearts who had grown up in the area themselves. They married in 1990 and stayed to raise their family. Megan Meier seemed to have found a new life just before her 14th birthdayboth in the tiny Dardenne Prairie, Mo., community where she’d been born and raised, and online. Hoping to quell her anxieties about her appearance and to avert a too-common adolescent obsession with image and attractiveness, Megan’s caring, protective parents had moved her from her former middle school to a local Catholic school mandating uniforms and modesty. Long insecure about her healthy weight, she joined the volleyball team and lost 20 pounds. Megan Meier was a complex, troubled girl and for a time she had been on antidepressants.
Megan had started her MySpace account a year earlier without her parent’s permission and they insisted she close it. But approaching 14, the age below which MySpace denies membership she begged for an account, persuading her parents that this new technology was simply a normal and essential part of her peers’ social lives. Tina and Ron drew up a careful list of rules to shield the girl from digital danger and things seemed to be going well. They supervised her watchfully and Tina periodically checked in, even “introducing” herself to Josh online. That’s about as involved as any good parent can get in their child’s SM account. She was enthused about a new online friend named Josh Evans. The cute 16-year old became something like a boyfriend over the month or so they had known each other, though they’d never met in person or even spoken by phone (his family ostensibly had Internet access, but no phone). If that doesn’t send up an alarm signal I don’t know what does. The two spent hours chatting online exchanging messages on MySpace.com, the social networking site popular among teens. Who were Megan’s parents to interfere with her happiness? Besides, Megan wasn’t physically or sexually involved with Josh. Things could be worse.
One friendly neighborhood family was the Drews. Megan and their daughter Sarah had been acquaintances, with an off-and-on-again friendship. The Drews even asked the Meiers to hide the kids’ Christmas presents in their garage. Relative newcomers to tight-knit Waterford Crossing, Lori and Curt Drew lived four doors down from the Meiers. Tina Meier had sold them their house. At one point the Drews’ daughter and Megan were best friends. Or at least close friends as can be typical of neighborhood friendships, this seems to have been a relationship of convenience, intense at times, but periodically cooler. When Megan switched schools, things between her and the Drews’ daughter became more aloof. Cooling relationships between teenage girls are frequently bitter. Megan gossiped about the Drews’ daughter and said the Drew girl was a lesbian. This allegation, fueling the bitterness and jealousy between the two girls, was the background to the MySpace drama.
On October 16, 2006, just shy of that eagerly anticipated birthday, things went irrevocably wrong as a simmering feud came fatally to a boil. Josh and Megan were fighting on MySpace. He accused her of treating her friends poorly and saying horrible things about them. As he pressed for details, the squabble spread and drew in other teenagers on MySpace. Feeling attacked on all sides, Megan lashed out at her parents and stomped upstairs. “Josh” told Megan that the world would be better off without her. Twenty minutes later, sensing something may have happened, Tina Meier went upstairs to check on her daughter. The Meiers called an ambulance, but it was too late. Their beloved Megan was dead, a suicide victim crushed not by a romance gone wrong, but by an awful trick the truth of which she never suspected She found Megan in the closet. She had hanged herself with a cloth Old Navy belt over a boy who in fact did not exist.
Josh Evans seems was largely the work not of Megan’s friends or peers but rather of a peer’s mother or her employee. Little did Megan know that “Josh” was a ruse designed to see what Megan might be saying about the Drew girl. It was a canny idea brilliantly and cruelly executed: invent a young girl’s ideal, and, if she doesn’t spill the beans to him, prompt her. Had the Drew girl engineered the Josh Evans hoax, the story would be sad and sordid enough. The case awaits trial, but the evidence suggests that a key figure in this outrage may have been a figure who should have been protecting the community and her family from this sort of venomous intrigue: 48-year-old Lori Drew, the other girl’s mother. Lori Drew denied initial police reports that she set up the account with her daughter. Federal allegations say that she was instrumental to the hoax, but she blames her employee in her home-based direct-mail business, Ashley Grills, who admitted involvement but further implicated Lori Drews. Grills was gravely affected by the unfortunate events. She attempted suicide and was hospitalized.
All that was slow to come to light; the Drews were understandably quiet themselves, tending to funeral arrangements. Lori Drew allegedly warned another of Megan’s peers, to keep quiet about the hoax and her role in it. That girl told her mother and the horrified woman took the tale to school counselors.The neighbor invited the Meiers to the school counseling center and filled them in on the truth behind the situation. The FBI conducted an investigation quietly. The US attorney’s office and the St. Charles County prosecutor decided that charges involving stalking and harassment didn’t apply to the case and that it couldn’t be successfully prosecuted. Eventually, federal prosecutors established a case against Lori Drew for defrauding MySpace. In May 2008 they subpoenaed the site. They filed charges of conspiracy in Los Angeles County, where MySpace’s servers are located. Lori Drew pled not guilty. She was tried twice, in 2008 and 2009 and found not guilty of murder in both trials.
It was a blogger in distant Richmond, Va.who discovered the news of Megan Meier’s death and shone a light on its alleged mastermind. The obituary, an online phone book and local tax records helped an outraged Sarah Wells identify and locate Lori Drew. In November of 2007, the 45-year old housewife published Drew’s name which early reports had omitted on her blog amid talk of politics and cats, video games and television. Anonymous commentators would then add Curt Drew’s name and their address. Other independent Internet muckrakers supplied pictures, maps and plenty of blame and hostility.
For their part, Ron tore up the Drews’ lawn with his truck, and Tina followed Lori as she put up signs for real estate clients. Tina told local business owners of the Drews’ involvement in Megan’s death. The Meiers didn’t stop there; the internet became a second front. Tina and Ron lobbied for more effective anti-cyberstalking laws. They were successful. In 2007 Dardenne Prairie passed an electronic harassment act, and the state of Missouri is reviewing state laws; other localities are following suit. Strangers hacked the Drews’ voicemail and posted YouTube videos of the family. Unknown parties threw a brick through their window and shot their house with a paintball gun. The Drews withdrew their daughter from school and are reportedly afraid to go to their own mailbox. Strangers have hacked their voicemail, posted YouTube videos of the family, and shot their house with a paintball gun. Someone started the website www.Meganhaditcoming.comand making it appear as though Lori Drew was behind the site, using the innocent girl already in her grave to continue the vendetta. A rather ironic form of punishment, considering this type of internet fraud killed Megan.
Do I believe a change in anti-cyberstalking laws was justified? Absolutely. Do I believe that people should know about the Drews involvement in Megan’s death? Yes and no. Consider they have a young daughter the same age as Megan when she died. Yes Sarah was a part of the dreadful conspiracy that pushed Megan into suicide, but considering the influence of her poisoned parents, she didn’t have much choice. And the ongoing hostility the Meiers’ direct at the Drews not only won’t alleviate their grief, but places them squarely in the same boxing ring as the enemy. As for the Drew girl, there will come a day when she fully comprehends the consequence of her criminal behaviour and that of her parents. She will pay her own price, whether she is behind bars or not. Children learn what they live. The young Drew girl is a perfect, pathetic example.