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Mother pleads not guilty in cyber-bullying suicide test case

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A Missouri woman alleged to have set up a fake MySpace account to taunt a teenage girl, who later committed suicide, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and accessing a protected computer to obtain information used to inflict emotional distress.

The landmark Federal case against 47-year-old Lori Drew began yesterday, AP reports. Prosecutors claim she created the persona of a 16-year-old boy to flirt with and then cruelly spurn her neighbour's daughter, Megan Meier. The 13-year-old hanged herself in the wake of the rejection and a message on her MySpace profile that said "The world would be a better place without you".

According to TV news, Drew had set-up the "Josh Evans" account after her own daughter had a falling out with Megan Meier.

The prosecution of Drew has sparked a fierce debate about identity online. Authorities initially struggled to find a law she could be tried for, but public outrage over the alleged bullying was intense. Missouri prosecutors were unable to find a state law that had been violated.

Federal indictment eventually followed, based on hacking law, and alleging that Drew violated MySpace's terms of service when she invented "Josh Evans", and that it amounted to unauthorised network access.

US legal experts are worried that a succesful prosecution could criminalise anyone who posts fake information online.

Drew's trial is set to begin on 26 July. A conviction could carry 20 years jail time. ®

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