A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has subpoenaed MySpace and others in connection with a teenage girl who hanged herself after receiving cruel messages on the site from people posing as a 16-year-old boy.
The tragedy unleashed national outrage after authorities said "Josh Evans," the supposed boyfriend, was a fake identity that was set up by the mother of one of the girl's former friends. Prosecutors in Missouri, where 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide in 2006, didn't press charges, saying they could find no laws that were broken.
But according to this article in the Los Angeles Times, federal prosecutors from the region where MySpace is headquartered are taking a fresh look at the case. They are investigating whether the creation of a fake identity to harass Meier could constitute internet or wire fraud under federal statutes.
The paper, citing unnamed sources, says the grand jury issued several subpoenas last week, including one to MySpace.
Megan Meier and the daughter of Lori Drew lived within blocks of each other and were friends until their relationship soured as they entered middle school. Shortly after that, a good-looking boy who said his name was Josh Evans befriended Meier on MySpace.
His messages were warm at first. But they soon took on a steely cruelness, as he and other MySpace users filled her box with negative messages.
The final straw came in a message from the Evans account that said, "The world would be a better place without you." Meier hanged herself in her bedroom that same day.
After a confrontation between Meier's parents and Lori Drew, a police report showed Drew admitted she "instigated and monitored" the fake MySpace profile so she could see what Megan Meier might be saying to others about her former friend. (An attorney for Drew now says his client didn't create or direct anyone else to create the account and that while she was aware of the account, she never sent messages to Megan or anyone else using it.)
The revelation that Drew was aware of the fake account touched off a international firestorm. Initial press accounts didn't identify Drew by name, but outraged readers quickly searched public records, put two and two together and figured out her identity. People in the same county and across the world soon posted her name, address, phone number and other details in dozens of forums, including ones like this one, titled "lori drew family, psychos who pushed a teenager to suicide," on RottenNeighbor.com.
Local Sheriff's deputies have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood where Drew lives.
While those sympathetic to Meier are likely to applaud the involvement of Los Angeles federal prosecutors, some civil libertarians are less sanguine. An attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Times he was concerned the case could set a legal precedent criminalizing online speech, particularly online anonymous speech, which is often used by whistle-blowers to report on unscrupulous corporations and government actors. ®