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The outcome of the legal case involving the woman Radar magazine called the "worst person on the Internet" could cause some major changes in the online world.
On June 16, Lori Drew of suburban St. Louis pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles court to one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization. Drew, who was released on a $20,000 bond, did not comment to the press outside the court house.
The case goes back to 2006 when Drew, possibly with help, allegedly created a MySpace profile for a fictional boy named "Josh Evans." Her alleged intent was to use Josh to find out what her daughter's former friend, 13-year-old Megan Meier, was saying about the girl. Evans and Meier became friends through MySpace. Meier was devastated when in October, 2006, Evans sent her a message saying "the world would be a better place" without her. Meier later hung herself.
The matter was investigated but authorities could not find any charges that they felt were applicable to file against Drew. In late 2007, Meier's family took Megan's story to the media. There was an outrage and, earlier this year, federal charges against Drew were found. A grand jury in California, where MySpace is headquartered, indicted her.
"The Internet is a world unto itself," Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, was quoted as saying in a June 20, 2008, Associated Press story. "People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses. Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions."
In the same article, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said it was the first time the federal statute regarding accessing protected computers has been used in regards to social networking. Generally it has been used to address hacking.
In regards to that part of the case, the charges against Drew are not really about what she did to Meier but for crimes against MySpace. While some legal experts wonder if the case should be dismissed, it has certainly raised many questions about U.S. laws in regards to the online world and its outcome - whether it be jail for Drew or the inspiring of various laws - could affect the Internet. G4TV wonders if Megan Meier is the girl who could change the Internet?
Among the questions being bantered around are:
Will this bring an end to screen names?
Will laws be created so that in a future situation someone like Drew would be charged for a crime against the victim, rather than MySpace?
What will it mean to regulation of social networking sites?
Will it affect the freedom of bloggers, whose online postings might upset someone?
There are many questions. When the case is complete, we will see how many have been answered.
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