Feds Drop Appeal In MySpace Suicide Case

The federal government today dropped its appeal in the MySpace suicide case, ending its efforts to prosecute Lori Drew for her role in an online hoax tied to the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier.

The move lets stand U.S. District Court Judge George Wu's decision to acquit Drew, notwithstanding a jury's decision that she was guilty of three misdemeanors in the high-profile case.

The federal authorities prosecuted Drew, an adult Missouri resident, for allegedly violating a federal computer fraud law by helping to hatch a plan to communicate with Megan via a fake profile.

The profile was of a boy, "Josh," who initially sent Megan flirtatious messages, but eventually sent hurtful ones. Megan hanged herself after receiving a final message from "Josh" that the world would be a better place without her. Drew herself didn't send the messages or create the account, according to the trial testimony.

Law enforcement authorities in Missouri concluded that Drew had broken no laws. The state subsequently enacted a cyberbullying statute.



But federal authorities in Los Angeles were determined to take action against Drew. They charged her with committing computer fraud on the theory that she violated MySpace's terms of service by using a fake name to gain access to Megan's profile.

While that creative interpretation of the statute seemed to satisfy many people's sense of justice, it was never legally sound. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was aimed at preventing hacking, but not violating any site's terms of service. Social networking sites -- or any sites that rely on user-generated content, for that matter -- couldn't stay in business if every terms of service violation could land users in jail for computer fraud.

Wu acknowledged as much in his dismissal order. He held that MySpace's terms of service are so broad that many people violate them -- ranging from the "the lonely-heart who submits intentionally inaccurate data about his or her age, height and/or physical appearance" (which goes against the site's ban on providing false or misleading information) to the "the exasperated parent who sends out a group message to neighborhood friends entreating them to purchase his or her daughter's girl scout cookies" (breaking the ban on advertising to other members).

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