Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Megan Meier MySpace Suicide:
Reactions to the Reactions to the Reactions

Megan Meier's MySpace Suicide story sparked a host of reactions and then, reactions to those reactions.

It's been ten days since the Megan Meier MySpace suicide story came over the horizon into the public's perception. It's a story with many twists and turns to it. It continues to twist still.

It was first published in the St. Charles (MO) Suburban Journal and picked up here several hours later. We wrote it up immediately for Bloggers News Network (BNN). Although it was reported by a few other blogs within hours, that's pretty much where it stood for a day.

By the weekend however it had grown into a hurricane of reactions: shock, disbelief, anger, but outrage seemed the most common.

MySpace Suicide - Initial Reactions

The story is a disturbing one, as any teen suicide would be, brought about when 13-year-old Megan Meier, who'd battled depression, was harassed by her online boy friend, Josh Evans. After a particularly nasty note from Josh, and some piling on by his friends, a distraught Megan hung herself.

It was another sad story of a sadder teen committing, to parents involved, the saddest act of all.

What made this teen suicide story different, was the discovery that Josh was a hoax crafted by a family who lived down the street from the Meier family. The hoax was a reaction to their daughter and Megan having a falling out.

Neighbor against neighbor in suburbia. Adults stalking teens online. Another Internet 'underbelly of the beast' in the form of popular social site, MySpace.

We'd finished our sixth story in four days when Megan's mother and father, Ron and Tina, appeared on CNN. The story gathered momentum from there and interest is still high, if comments and emails written are any guide.

By the weekend, the story had changed from Megan. It was now the story of "Megan as an illustration". What kind of illustration seemed to depend on what particular cause the writer was espousing.

There was the "Internet was Evil" reaction, with the tragedy held up as the latest proof. Government types were quick to point out "There ought to be a law". Against the largely-unregulated Internet, and the really scary place that was MySpace.

More common reactions were sorrow for Megan and her family; disgust and outrage that she was stalked by adults who knew her. Even more disgust and outrage was heaped upon the hoaxers when it was related that Megan's parents had destroyed a foosball table they'd been storing for their daughter's tormentors--and the mother filed charges against the Meier parents.

Reactions to the Reactions

The rage reached a crescendo over the lack of legal recourse for the Meier parents.

The storm then shifted over the identities of the perpetrators. Who was this heartless bunch? The Suburban Journal hadn't named them in the original story "out of concern for their daughter. As ABC News reported it a couple of days ago, Police Cite 'Air of Vigilantism' In Response to Girl's Suicide:
But that hasn't stopped an outpouring of hostility against her, both online and in the real world. The story hit the national media late last week, with Megan's parents appearing on Good Morning America and the Today show. Though the newspapers and networks declined to identify the real-life "Josh Evans," bloggers quickly outed her and posted her family's name, address and phone number online.
Actually, it was readers who posted names and phone numbers--and large numbers of them, apparently many from Dardenne Prairie, a small suburb of St. Louis.

The networks and larger media wouldn't report the identities of the Drews at first, but before the weekend was over, they were all over the story of angry neighbors.
Since then, messages threatening the family have been posted online. A brick was thrown through their window. Someone drove a truck over their front lawn, according to police. A paint-ball was shot against the house.

The woman, who also has a young daughter, has received threatening phone calls; people have screamed obscenities as they drive by the house, a neighbor said. Police descended on the house in the middle of the night last week, neighbors said, after an apparent fake 911 call was made.

Police are concerned that the harassment, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, may escalate.

"We believe that all the publicity about this situation has led to an air of vigilantism," said Lt. Craig McGuire of the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department. "We're concerned people will take things into their own hands."
A Few Observations

Newspapers who have no compunction with publishing the names of secretaries and coal miners arrested for drunk driving; or of the boy next door arrested for having marijuana in his car, were concerned about publishing the identity of cyber-bullies who'd harassed a teen for six weeks.

Traditional media never wavers in its commitment to "the public's right to know" about the teacher after two beers, the paperboy's stash or the questionable past of a presidential candidate's friend. But this story triggered their sensibilities--for awhile.

Newspapers of all sizes fret over plummeting circulation while TV Networks watch their rating spiral down.

Traditional Media Relents

But then the networks and papers did report the names of Curt and Lori Drew, the parents behind the hoax.

After turning up their noses at bloggers publishing the names (in our case after readers repeatedly posted the information to our stories), traditional media began reporting that very same information they had initially been reluctant to supply.

There was a reaction to this, of course. One was supplied by the LA Times, "How to Punish a Cyber-Bully":
This week -- more than a year after Megan Meier's death -- the names of the neighbors were finally disclosed in published accounts. The disclosure was largely the result of pressure from bloggers, who do not feel bound by the rules of mainstream newspapers and networks and who have been meting out their own form of Internet justice. The neighbors are Lori and Curt Drew, according to news reports.

The Drews' daughter was certainly dealt a bad hand by her parents. However, the media puts itself on a slippery slope when it starts to protect accused wrongdoers on behalf of their progeny, offering a free pass for alleged predators who procreate.

It seems clear that the Drews did not want to kill Megan or even hurt her physically. They are not the first to be grotesquely transformed by a new technology that offers easy availability and anonymity to its users. Yet, if cyber-traps are to be deterred, there must be avenues to guarantee both forms of private relief and public record.
Reaction at Death By 1000 Papercuts

Reaction at DBKP was mixed.

At first, it was feared that this story would be another one lost in the shuffle: a tragedy unnoticed. When we were contacted by Fox News a few days after our original story, we no longer thought that would be the case.

This feeling was confirmed when readers from all over the world showed up to read the stories here.

After we'd deleted the 10th comment--for posting only the Drew's personal info and nothing else--we pointed out that scorn and humiliation were effective remedies for the apparent lack of legal recourse.

We also pointed out that a worse punishment was that the Drews had to live the rest of their lives with the knowledge of what their hoax had caused. If remoresless, they would live the rest of their lives as themselves: the worst of all possible punishments in our eyes.

When we received emails deploring the public's outpouring of outrage as a "witch hunt", we agreed that any resorts to violence were completely out of line. But we refused to take the view of treating the Drews as victims. In our eyes, they were only victims of their own mean-spirited actions.

A Few Conclusions

The calls for more laws and regulations to bind the Internet are incorrect. No law or increased regulation would likely have stopped this hoax from happening. More stringent regulations might, however, have stopped some bloggers from reporting it as accurately as they did.

Regulations will never protect humans from the effects of evil human nature. They will only make us feel better until the next time an outrageous act is committed.

It is bizarre for newspapers to fret over publishing the names of cruel hoaxers who--in the words of one commenter--"acted in the manner of sexual predators". Those same newspapers are full of stories, revealing complete personal details, of people charged--not convicted--with any multitude of transgressions: DUI, minor drug possession, speeding tickets.

The story of those charges later being dropped doesn't seem to excite the same level of journalistic interest, however.

Megan's story really won't matter; some writers will bend it to fit their preconceived point of view. It'll not be about Megan to them: it'll be about using her as a tool to advance their cause.

Laws for regulating the Internet; for stricter controls on what can be said online; to raise money; that any negative reactions are 'vigilantism'; for more money for suicide prevention: take your pick.

They'll all invoke the name and story of Megan Meier. To most of those, she'll cease to be a 13-year-old schoolgirl: she'll be a slogan.

The last conclusion is the one we hope readers would take away with them. That is: that the story of Megan Meier is about Megan Meier and her family. About the tragedy that is the grievous loss of a child.

About how she lived and died and how her parents struggled to cope with the aftermath.

Used as a precautionary tale, the sad story of Megan Meier might prevent another story like hers from happening.

Long after the reaction has died down, it can be hoped that the story of Megan Meier inspires a prayer for her and her parents.

by Mondoreb

More on the Megan Meier MySpace Suicide:

MySpace Suicide: The Megan Meier Story - video
MySpace Suicide:
Megan Meier's Story May Prevent Others

CNN Interview with Megan's Parents
MySpace Suicide Reaction:
Outrage! Outrage! Outrage!

MySpace Cruel Prank Leads To Teen’s Suicide


Death by 1000 Papercuts Front Page.

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