If it's possible to put aside OJ for a moment, there was another verdict this week, one with more direct implications for this audience.
Lori Drew, the 49 yr old mother who created a fake 16 yr old boy on MySpace to lure 13 yr old neighbor Megan Meier into an online relationship, was acquited of 3 felony charges last Wednesday, but convicted of 3 lesser charges. Sentencing will take place in several weeks. Drew could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for her convictions on three misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization.
Megan committed suicide, hanging herself immediately after receiving an online message from Drew's fake boy that said: ""Everybody in O'Fallon (Missouri) knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you." Megan immediately responded online: "You're the kind of boy a girl would kill herself over", and then was found dead 20 minutes later, hanging by her neck in a closet.
Sarah & Lori Drew
This is the first federal case linking alleged online criminal behavior on social networks like MySpace, Facebook & Linked-In with real world death.
Prosecution had based much of its case on the MySpace Terms of Service agreement, saying that Drew had intentionally violated MySpace's TOS when she recreated herself online as "Josh Evans", the 16 yr old boy.
The jury was deadlocked at 6 guilty, 6 not guilty on the conspiracy charge, clearly struggling with the concept of cyber behavior, like the online bullying in which Drew engaged, and its level of direct impact on real world actions, such as Megan's suicide.
Why did Drew start her online campaign against Megan? The Drews and Meiers lived 4 houses apart. Drew's daughter Sarah and Megan Meier were classmates and best friends in their preteens, but drifted apart, as friends sometimes do, and the friendship ended when Megan began attending another school. Mrs. Drew became convinced that Megan was spreading false rumors about her daughter Sarah and told a neighbor she would "mess with Megan". Shortly after that, Drew's invented 16 yr old "Josh" first enticed Megan into a whirlwind online relationship, carried it on for several days, to Megan's delight, and then abruptly broke it off.
There are many important aspects to this case and its ultimate conclusion, especially the nature and impact of online behavior in the real world and people's responsibility for their actions online. Is there any difference between what you do online and what you do in the real world?
There is no direct comparison available in this case, because it is highly unlikely Mrs. Drew could have pulled off posing as a real world 16 year old hunk like "Josh" to Megan. But I do wonder how differently the jury would have treated Drew, had she done so, and had she taken the same actions in the real world that caused Megan to hang herself.
Were the members of the jury more uncomfortable convicting a defendant of felony crimes for online behavior than they would have been for similar actions in the real world? How much difference is there between ourselves online and in the real world?