First, there was the prosecution of Lori Drew -- an adult who helped hatch a plan to create a fake profile of a boy, "Josh," who sent messages to 13-year-old Megan. She killed herself after receiving a final message from Josh -- a statement that the world would be a better place without her. But that email didn't come from Drew. Rather, it was sent by now 20-year-old Ashley Grills, the former babysitter for Drew's daughter. (It also wasn't sent on MySpace.)
Clearly, Drew showed poor judgment here. But it's hard to accept the government's legal conclusion that she committed federal computer fraud by violating MySpace's terms of service -- which require users to register under their own names.
At trial, there was no proof that she'd even read the terms of service. But even had she done so, computer fraud laws are aimed at people who obtain access to sites for purposes of identity theft and hacking -- not at people who create pseudonymous profiles.
Additionally, MySpace's s terms probably aren't even legally valid because the site reserves the right to change them at will. Consider, a federal district court in Texas just held that Blockbuster's terms of service aren't enforceable because Blockbuster includes a similar condition in them.
After a trial last year, the jury convicted Drew of three misdemeanor counts. Today, prosecutors filed papers asking the judge to sentence Drew to three years in prison -- though federal sentencing guidelines call for probation. Meanwhile, the judge is still considering whether to toss the conviction.
But that's not the only fallout. Various states are mulling laws that would regulate social networking sites by, for instance, requiring parents to give permission for children to use the sites, or imposing obligations on sites to police comments. Should any states enact such laws, courts would almost certainly declare them unconstitutional or toss them on other grounds.
Meanwhile, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) has introduced a federal law, the "Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act." For now, the wording is probably too broad to be constitutional. The bill makes it a crime to send electronic communications "with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person" and requires that the sender exhibit "severe, repeated, and hostile behavior" -- a clause that doesn't exactly lend itself to easy definition.