by John W. Dozier
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November 30, 2008
At Dozier Internet Law we try to maintain a balanced, objective perspective on things. It's particularly important that we have this mindset when advising clients. Not so for the media, though. When the news reports started filtering in about the MySpace conviction, I thought the defense had won.
Wired.com screamed "Lori Drew Not Guilty of Felonies in Landmark Cyberbullying Trial" and went on to characterize the jury decision as a "slap-on-the-wrist verdict". Similar headlines streamed from the online media. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to then find that the jury had convicted Ms. Drew of three misdemeanors for unauthorized access, which appear to be computer hacking statute convictions, which carry up to three years in jail and a $300,000 fine. Here is what the headline might have said:
"Jury Verdict Guilty: Suicide Mom Faces Three Years Behind Bars and Almost a Half Million Dollar Fine"
Then the article could have gone into the reality of the situation and the implications of such a court decision. Drew will likely have to sell her assets to cover fines and costs and lawyer fees. Her reputation is ruined. She will be forever considered in the minds of the public as a heinous figure. Her name will be associated with cyberbullying, she'll get her own Wikipedia page, she'll have laws named after her, and this entire process will be available online in perpetuity for her children, her grandchildren, and her grandchildren's granchildren to see. This is a scarlet letter on her name forever. And what employer would ever hire someone convicted of a computer crime relating to personal data and information theft? Job prospects are dim, to say the least. All of this, topped with a serious threat of incarceration in jail. Hardly the victory Wired.com paints.
No, this is no victory for anyone. At Dozier Internet Law we have to ask how much influence the liberal "information yearns to be free" online media contributed to Drew's misunderstanding as to what is, and what is not, acceptable online conduct? When the "authoritative" citizen journalists and recognized online news sites constantly place a biased perspective on permissible online conduct right in the faces of the moms and dads and brothers and sisters living all across our country, are we surprised that Drew misunderstood the rules?
So, for all of the purported "legal experts" wary of these charges, there is a place to get laws changed. It's the legislative branch! It's not the courts. And it certainly is not the court of public opinion. In your shaping of public opinion on this issue, do you provide guidance, support and encouragement for naive netizens to place their livelihood and reputations at risk for generations to come? Yes, you do.
The online world is a long way from self policing and self regulation. Industries that don't embrace those concepts get regulated by laws. Online commentators, journalists and so-called experts need to stop fostering and encouraging lawlessness. Try to establish and promote good, honest, moral, ethical and legal conduct. You'll find that this self regulation and self restraint will preserve many of the rights and liberties today enjoyed by your constituencies. But keep up your misinformation, and you'll find that this case is just the beginning volley of a battle that is brewing over personal misconduct online.