Megan Meier, MySpace, Bad Parents and Sick Adults: When should cyberbullying be considered a crime?
"I know that they did not physically come up to our house and tie a belt around her neck," Tina says. "But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old - with or without mental problems - it is absolutely vile.” (Tina Meier to The St. Charles Journal, regarding what happened to her daughter, Megan Taylor Meier)
Tina and Ron Meier of O'Fallon, Mo., mourn their daughter, Megan. In 2006, while her mother prepared family dinner, Megan hung herself with a belt in her bedroom closet after being tormented on MySpace, the victim of cyberbullying and a prank so heinous that it's turned some bloggers and Net readers into a "cyber lynch mob."
According to the November 13 story by Steve Pokin in the St. Charles Journal, Megan was a 13-year-old, chubby teen, who had been diagnosed with ADD and tended toward depression, but she appeared to be turning her life toward an upswing. She'd lost weight and was busy handing out invitations to a party for her 14th birthday. Contributing to her positive outlook on life was the stirrings of young love. For the first time in Megan's life she had a "hot" boy enchanted by her. She'd met this "hot" boy, Josh Evans, on MySpace.com.
One day, however, with little explanation, the "hot" Josh turned on Megan. Suddenly he didn't want to have anything to do with her. He accused her of not being nice to her friends, of being a mean person and a slut. His disgust with her spread to bulletins and a flame of insults from others. Right before her on her computer screen, Megan's life spiraled into a pit as quickly as it had zoomed upward.
Why on earth would this 16-year-old boy attack this 13-year-old so viciously?
Bigger problem and better question: Why would the mother of another young teen pretend to be a "hot" boy, befriend Megan, who she knew was a troubled 13-year-old, and then orchestrate a hate campaign aqainst her? That's right. The "hot" Josh Evans was not a 16-year-old boy but the grown mother of another young teen. She allegedly started the fake MySpace profile to gain Megan's confidence and find out what Megan may have been saying to others about her daughter. It's reported that her daughter and Megan were frenemies who had drifted to the permanent state of out-of-friendship.
Since Steve Pokin broke this story in his "Pokin' Around" column, it's prompted one burning debate after another. The most fiery has revolved around the decision of his newspaper, The St. Charles Journal, to not reveal the identity of the MySpace mother who originated the phony profile and concocted the horrific plan to humiliate Megan. Its editorial staff said that in order to protect the daughter of the pranksters it wouldn't reveal the identities of her mother and father, who were behind the page. This reasoning has not impressed some Netizens who remind readers that the parents involved their daughter in the fraud and campaign against Megan.
The St. Charles Journal staff isn't the only media outlet that chose to protect the culprits. If you watch the CNN story at YouTube, it seems that that network also opted not to reveal the identity of the offending parents.
Bloggers have had no such qualms. The parents who tormented Megan have been outed by bloggers who've printed both their names and address. Jezebel.com, according to letter from David Crook to Romenesko at Poynteronline, "stirred up a reader hornets' nest" about Megan's case. In one post naming the parents, a Jezebel writer asks "Are the Parents who MySpace-tormented Megan Meier ready to atone?" And Bloggin' in the Suburbs writer cuts the offending parents no slack either in the post "Justice for Megan Meier."
The outrage, according to Death by 1000 Papercuts, only grew when readers learned the MySpace-faking parents filed a police report against the Meiers, who, upon stricken with grief and upon learning who was behind the MySpace page, chopped into bits a foosball table, a Christmas gift they'd agreed to store at their home for the MySpace-faking parents. The families are neighbors, you see, and despite the disagreement between their daughters, the Meiers thought the other parents were their friends..
A writer at ScaredMonkeys.com minces no words, speaking of the adults behind the fake page:
There are sick acts that occur on the internet and then there are others that go beyond words and logic. We always warn children and teens that there are consequence to their actions. In the case of adults … there is no excuse. The following account is one of the most depressing and heinous acts of cyber-bullying and internet fraud against a teen ever. The tragedy that followed, almost makes the story impossible to read. However, everyone should and most read it and beware of those that would be such cowards on the internet to pretend to be someone they are not and to harass others. (Scared Monkeys.com)
And Suncoast Scribe has a question some of you may be asking:
When children are being raised by parents who are immature and evil, do those children even have a chance at a life where they will ever know right from wrong? (Suncoast Scribe)
I first learned of this story through blogger Contributing Editor Professor Kim Pearson, who teaches journalism. She learned of it through A USC Anneberg Online Journal Review in the post by Robert Niles, "The readers will have the final word," which is about crowdsourcing. In it, Niles discusses how bloggers went beyond traditional journalists and revealed the names of the offending parents.
While many readers may agree the parents deserved to be outed more than they deserved protection, others may wonder whether ostracizing the parents online isn't equally harmful. After all, online shaming, even when the deed is worthy of shunning and shame, is also considered to be a serious problem that may lead to someone's physical harm:
Public shaming is used without much thought in cases like registered sex offender databases online. In Megan’s case it was public outcry from an international news item, but shaming can include people posting info about their exes, bosses and other intimate situations. Even with sex offenders, who might seem to deserve exposure, Internet shaming is a problem that has led to vigilante murders. It might seem okay for Megan’s tormenters to be harassed as punishment but we don’t know all the facts. I’m not at all sympathetic to the cyberbullies but Internet shaming ought to be discouraged. (Sandra Kiume at World of Psychology)
I tend to agree with Ms. Kiume. Internet shaming should be discouraged, but the Megan Meier case would make almost anyone's blood boil. As one reader at The Peoria Chronicle suggests, perhaps Megan's case illustrates why cyberbullying should be considered a crime. The parents of Megan's former friend involved their own daughter as well as other people's children in tormenting Megan, and it appears their actions contributed to her suicide. If nothing else, shouldn't the adults who orchestrated tormenting Megan Meier be charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors?
I urge you to read Steve Pokin's detailed story at The St. Charles Journal, "A Real Person, A Real Death." For visuals, I recommend CNN's story. The Associated Press has a shorter story.
Photo from Bloggin' in the Suburbs.
Nordette Adams is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer.org.
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