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Cyber-Ethics and Cyber-Crime May 18, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.

A 13-year old girl thinks she is having an online relationship with an attractive boy, Josh, on MySpace; after several weeks he breaks off the relationship, suggesting that the world would be better off without her. Within an hour she has hanged herself in the closet. This is, of course, a tragedy. We all remember how vulnerable we were at 13, and some young souls are just more fragile than others. It is a rare case when the law steps in and accuses the person who ended the relationship with wrongdoing, but this is what has happened in the case of Megan Meier in Missouri, now getting national media attention. Because there are some twists to the story: For one thing, there is no “Josh”; that was a false identity created by an adult neighbor, Lori Drew, her daughter who used to be a friend of Megan’s, and an 18-tear old computer-savvy woman, reportedly so that they could find out what Megan was saying about the daughter who used to be her friend. And now the mother has been charged, in a Los Angeles court, with the federal crime of “cyber-bullying,” despite the fact that Missouri had decided not to prosecute. Why Los Angeles? Because that’s where MySpace is being managed, and she is charged with the crime of establishing a fraudulent identity on MySpace, used to cause emotional distress. Drew is looking at a maximum of 20 years behind bars, and now Missouri is approving a bill against cyber-harassment. We’ll probably see more legislation along those lines. This is one of those examples where legislation is struggling to catch up with technology, but as for the moral aspect of the story, that is interesting in itself: Do we need to develop a new set of moral standards for the Internet, or can we make do with the ones we already have, for communication as well as for self-protection? Many of you have avatars on a variety of websites, and it is generally considered a fun option, or even a safe way to communicate without exposing oneself to cyberstalking, not as a means of cyberstalking. It usually doesn’t involve creating a complete fraudulent identity for the purpose of stalking, or harassing, or misleading others for nefarious purposes. Lori Drew knew that she was playing with a vulnerable person’s mind, out of spite. Maybe she thought she was protecting her daughter—but even in the real world, self-defense can’t dramatically exceed the level of perceived threat. Increasingly, cyber communities don’t allow false identities. So what say you: Is it always morally wrong to create false web identities? Does it depend on the intention, or is it somehow wrong in itself?



1. Huan - May 19, 2008

What if the mom paid some boy to befriend her in real life and then dumped her? Would that have had any legal ramifications? We often pretend to be who we’re not to manipulate people, and for the most part this isn’t illegal at all as far as I know. So why is it different on the internet? I mean of course it’s easier to do it on the internet, it doesn’t take a master of the human psyche to put up pictures of someone who isn’t you, but it seems to be the same concept as plain old manipulation of emotions.

2. Sheyri E - May 20, 2008

Lying is lying! It does make a big difference of the intentions of there is behind ones lie. I think it depends if a person is lying for a good cause or for a bad cause. If you’re lying to protect someone or to prevent a catastrophe from occurring then your intentions are to be as good of a person as you can. If behind your lie you’re still being a just person with others and you still care for others, where others are more important to you than yourself. Maybe at this point it is acceptable to say a lie, because there is a good reason of saying it once. But what if behind one lie there’s another lie and people are being harmed and you’re treating people unfairly behind all your lies, and all you show to care for is yourself and not about others. In this situation I would suggest lying is unacceptable, because all you seem to be showing is to be selfish an unfair. I think that what really matters in a person’s actions in being honest or dishonest with their identity is the meaning behind why they are pretending to be that person.

3. Charlette Lin - May 23, 2008

I do not think that the action of lying in itself is immoral. If grandma is on her deathbed and lying to her will let her die a peaceful death, then just lie to her.

To me, an action is immoral if it causes suffering. It doesn’t matter if this lady did it herself or paid a boy to cause suffering onto the 13 year old girl; both actions are immoral because the result would have caused psychological harm.

Even if the 13 year old girl did something wrong to the daughter of this woman, she should be taught/shown how to be kinder or what-not… not punished in such a cruel way. Social acceptance at that age is extremely important to an individual. I remember being very obnoxious (I might still be… hopefully less so though) when I was 13 years old because I did not know better. In our society, people of that age are still children and have a lot to learn–as well as have a lot of potential to become amazing people.

4. Erin Childers - May 28, 2008

“So what say you: Is it always morally wrong to create false web identities? Does it depend on the intention, or is it somehow wrong in itself?”
In reply to Rosenstand’s question: Of course it is wrong to create falsities intentionally (or as sometimes professed, unintentionally). Unless creating a didactic story designed at preventing such unfortunate tragedies, as the suicide of young Megan Meier, there is certainly never going to be a morally just cause in creating a false identity. It is an unfortunate society that we all must endure to think that some may find it “OK” that this type of behavior is somehow warranted and or accepted. Whether it is a 13yr old or a 45yr old, never will I believe the cruelty of a world in which people can find a fault within the victim of such a lack of morality within a failing system. That is exactly what is wrong in, not only our culture, but within the world as a whole (or shattered pieces of). I would like to add that I am glad that a Los Angeles (Home of MySpace) court has decided to prosecute the (adult) perpetrator of this unfortunate tragedy. The internet is a wonderful tool in the progression of technology, but has also become a weapon of choice in the ethically defunct mind of the criminal. Lack of morality… I see it in all conceivable places.

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