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Fake MySpace Profile Implicated in Suicide

What can community operators do?



9:48 pm on Nov 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

The suicide of a troubled teen has been linked to the girl's interactions with a MySpace member who proved to be a false identity set up by an adult neighbor. The profile appeared to be a boy of similar age to the girl.

Net hoax turns deadly, turns town against neighbors [chicagotribune.com]

This raises a couple of issues for operators of community sites and social networks:

1) Anonymity is greatly valued in many communities because it allows frank discussion without exposing personal information, but will communities end up having to establish the real identity of users even if they keep it confidential? Even then, a hoax like the one that precipitated the above tragedy could still be perpetrated.

2) As a community operator, how do you deal with members who are in emotional distress? Just about every busy community encounters this situation once in a while. A member is clearly troubled, and is posting in a way that makes other members uncomfortable and/or worried... it seems kind of cruel to add to the problem member's troubles by issuing warnings or turning off posting, but something has to be done. How have you handled these issues?


11:30 pm on Nov 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I know the OP didn't have the word 'blame' in the title, but the one on the WW homepage did, so just a sidenote, I've read the articles before on CNN and elsewhere, and don't remember anyone 'blaming' myspace.


Anonymity isn't limited to community sites. This could have happened on IRC, flickr, through MSN or any other chat interface all the same.

I felt awfully sorry for the girl, but with all due respect to the mother, a girl of this age being so insecure, so vulnerable... in my offline experience more often than not originates from how parents behave at home, and not the (online) community.

Operators, members usually help a huge deal in keeping one's spirits up... actually the net eases a lot of angst among such troubled people, and the ease of turning off the computer / logging off a network makes it even more inviting. You can come and go, start a new 'life' whenever you please.

And I don't mean the one who set up the hoax, but the girl.

Operators can't do anything, just by operating the site they helped a fair deal already.

I read a comment from her mother, a quote to be exact. Didn't sound too sensitive. If it wasn't for community sites the girl might have committed suicide even sooner than she did. Usually such people, either young or middle aged, are more curious of afterlife than what's left from their days as humans. 'Prepared to die'... so to speak.

Either way the whole story is horrible, but I'd investigate the parents and the neighbors, and file pretty serious suits against them... before I'd issue the threat of online anonymity.

The story made me raise an eyebrow to say the least.
The ones at fault were sitting within a few hundred feet from her.
Mistreated her for years. As an operator, you just can't beat people who plan this kind of abuse.

And I really don't think most of the ( otherwise high percentage ) of troubled people on the net'd have taken this 'boy' so seriously. I'm having doubts about the girl doing so too.


11:36 pm on Nov 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

This is a case where I think laws, not internet companies, need to catch up with the modern age.

In this case, an ADULT, along with their children plotted this to get back at a child who had been unkind. The child ended up committing suicide.

There is no way any company, internet based or otherwise, could have protected the parties involed (although the girl who committed suicide was underage when she signed up for the account but the difference of a year would not have affected the outcome of this).

In this case an adult did a very stupid thing, which seems to me is no different than an adult showing up to (physically) fight their children's bullies.

There should be laws in place to deal with this. Then again, there should be adults who are willing to act like adults. But, I suppose, at their essence, that is what laws are there to enforce.


11:56 pm on Nov 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jomaxx is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Miamacs, aren't the facts of the case plain enough? Two adults carrying out an elaborate plan to destroy a 13-year-old girl is unforgivable. Unless you know something specific that wasn't published in the article, it's pretty **** to blame the girl's own parents for her death, not to mention suggesting they should be investigated for some unspecified crime.

[Decided to edit - replace **** with the word of your choice.]


1:18 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member billys is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Someone needs to get punished for this. A 13 year old is no match for a cunning adult - someone that understands all of the darkness that many times surround the hormone explosion that occurs at this age.

[edited by: BillyS at 1:20 am (utc) on Nov. 18, 2007]


1:32 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

In this case, I don't think there was anything that MySpace could have done, since as far as I know there was no online behavior that indicated how troubled she was.

I worry more about those members in forums who exhibit behavior that indicates some kind of emotional problem. Usually other members are helpful, but often the troubled members can place a heavy load on other members and moderators. And, it's important that they seek real professional help and not rely on other anonymous forum posters to diagnose their problems.

I tend to cut things off when they get disruptive, and encourage the member to seek in-person help.


3:07 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Whilst it might not be sensitive to say so, I feel that the victim's parents must shoulder some of the responsibility as if they had been sat beside her as she used MySpace they probably could have offered support and noticed problems a lot earlier. Cyber-stalking, grooming, and cyber-bulling investigations always firmly recommend close supervision of time spent online by children.


4:37 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

not every stupid and mean thing is or needs to be illegal.

If I say that you're ugly as sin, and you kill yourself, am I murderer?


6:01 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've read the articles before on CNN and elsewhere, and don't remember anyone 'blaming' myspace.

Agreed, this has nothing to do with the forum it happened with and everything to do with the users. Being able to be held accountable for what you do online is really what is at play here...or NEEDS to be.


6:47 am on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Webmasterworld presenting the front page headline: "MySpace Hoax Blamed for Suicide" is both sensationalist and irresponsible as it distorts the reality of this story. = Lame


12:00 pm on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

A detailed story of the same incident is here.
POKIN AROUND: A real person, a real death


12:58 pm on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

jomaxx, sorry I didn't mean to blame anyone and no, all I know is what I've seen/read of the story. What I meant was that in my experience, most of the time ( not always ) it takes a certain amount of negligance from parents ( not during but leading to the incident ) for a teenaged person to be so confuzed, insecure, feeling unloved, ugly and unimportant. This isn't a fact, this is just gut feeling after seeing all too many such cases, including attempted suicide of three ( completely unrelated ) girls I know throughout the last few years, all of around the same age. All of them have had severe problems with lack of attention, love or acceptance... from their mother. Not the usual teenage differences, but their mothers telling them off every other day, some of them taking an utterly wrong approach to 'strenghten' their child - not taking into account that they are dealing with a person, and not just their own ideals. Which is hard to believe - to me too - until you see it in real life. The result you can imagine, young people with no safe place to feel secure, no 'ultimate ally' to run to. One of them turned to God, one of them got interested in psychology... a third is now a young madwoman... the rest of such but less severe stories around me and within my family too add to the gut feeling that something wasn't entirely right at home in this case either, though I might be wrong. So my message to those who don't, is love your children, please. ( I'm sure everyone who reads this knows, and feels this way already ). The other side of the story, the actual abuse by adult neighbors (!), is something I'd have filed a criminal suit for, and even if the investigations end up with the conclusion of no people being directly responsible, or a suspended sentence ( which I'd call for ), that would send out the proper message that if you mess with people, no matter whom, you are doing something wrong.

If the shootings by mistreated, bullied, mentally unstable boys this year didn't send the proper message already. But these things can't be stressed enough... you shouldn't treat people badly, and that's that. Not your neighbor, nor your classmate, not even your 'enemies'.


Can't remember seeing the story of the finnish boy here, ( perhaps I missed it ) who actually laid out the plans of killing others before killing himself, and then did exactly so, last week I think - he posted straightforward clues on YouTube, from where the operators have deleted these videos afterwards. Not sure if he did so to leave a trace for others, or to himself, so that someone might be able to stop him. Not sure if YouTube contacted the local police before the incident, or whether they knew whom to contact at all, but... regardless of these steps taken or not taken, the problems leading there were that some people treated a not-so-healthy person badly, who then snapped.

People just shouldn't do such things.
And that stress then wouldn't burst out in such tragedies.



9:40 pm on Nov 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I think the headline is accurate: the parents of the deceased, along with most people who have heard the story, blame the communications from the fake MySpace member for triggering the unfortunate action. I don't think there's any implication that MySpace itself was complicit, which of course the firm was not.


1:09 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Legal action should be sought against the "adults" (and I'll use the term only to base age, not maturity) from the child's parents.

OK, if she was mean or had a "falling out" with their daughter that is something that MATURE adults need to take up with each other it is obvious the parents who did this are far from mature.

The parents of the deceased do have the right to a wrongful dealt suit (IMO) and the chats / emails / blogs between the deceased and the "jokers" need to be looked though with a microscope, I'm sure something was done that could be considered illegal.

As for the WW title on the splash page, I do think it is misleading. It implies that MySpace is at fault when they're not and it seems that no one is making that claim, just that sites like this need to be policed (which is very difficult to do).


1:23 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

(She) stated she, her daughter and (the temporary employee) all typed, read and monitored the communication between the fake male profile and Megan …..

Having an additional temporary employee handling the fake myspace account shows how immature she is.

Does MySpace terms and conditions say anything against creating a fake account?


1:24 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I'm with Megan's parents, in that the law should be changed to go after the people making up the hoax the same as any manipulative predator or pervert. What a cruel, childish and deadly joke.


3:26 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Wow. How can something so cruel be considered a joke by these "adult" neighbors? Ugh. What's wrong with them?

Sometimes I wish it was the old days and you could just go get the pitchforks and torches. Problem solved.


3:33 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Let's get honest with ourselves. I watched the special on TV and what the person did was wrong. HOWEVER they did not force in any way that child to commit suicide. She did it on her own. They are not any more responsible for it then the parents of the child are for not treating their mentally unstable daughter. Getting made fun of is a part of life. These people took it to far, however what they did wasn't criminal and they had no way of knowing that the child would take her own life.

The above comments may seem heartless, but I do fill their pain. I just believe that what they did wasn't illegal and that they shouldn't be held responsible anymore then the girl's parents, the girl, or anyone else envolved (such as myspace).


5:28 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

My guess is that the recourse will be in civil rather than criminal court, but I'm no attorney. There are certainly cases where speech can be actionable, as far as I know:

1) If you yell "fire" in a theater and I am trampled to death in the stampede.

2) If you make threatening phone calls every night to my house, and I suffer emotional distress, health problems, etc.

I think the legal system is sorting out how to deal with behavior by young people, often with odd results. It used to be more or less accepted that students would bully other students, or make cruel remarks. Now, such behavior may result in disciplinary action or occasionally legal action, particularly if the behavior is related to a protected category (gender, minority, etc.). Trying to control all behavior by kids can get carried to extremes, of course - there was just a story about a young student who hugged a classmate and got suspended [wjbc.com].

The dilemma seems to be that authorities try to devise rules that will prevent problem behavior but have difficulty enforcing them without tripping up similar but benign behavior.

That a presumably responsible adult was involved in the hoax and harrassment makes this situation stranger than most.

But, back to the community issue: have you had to deal with emotionally disturbed members who you worried might present a danger to themselves or others?


7:01 pm on Nov 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I can hardly imagine what kind of white trash loser would do this to a kid..


4:20 pm on Nov 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The my space thing is just what pushed her over the edge. I suspect the problems started, as they so often do, with the treatment she received from the other kids at school.


5:39 pm on Nov 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes the parents who wrote the messages are scum and mean but there is nothing illegal in that.

I am surprised that the parents, who knew their daughter was emotionally unstable would let her online unsupervised. They would never let her hang out at a bar unsupervised but they let her troll the net without a second thought? Any emotionally stable (relative term) teen would have fired back or ignored threatening language. The other party could not know that being mean would lead to a death.


4:35 pm on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Guns don't kill people... people kill people.

Websites don't pull hoaxes on people. People pull hoaxes on people.

The kid and his parent who did this to her should get what is coming to them, but if had they done this VIA their Hotmail account rather then MySpace would this have implications for Email? No, and it shouldn't have implications for the networking community either.

You can't stop bad people from being bad. They find a way to do it if they want to bad enough.


9:59 pm on Nov 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

looks like they are already paying for this--not that I advocate vigilante justice or anything:
"A man, they were told, had been fatally shot inside a home. Neighbors opened doors, peered out windows and watched. As many as 15 deputies, they said, drew weapons and charged the home of {name removed by Walkman}.

But there was no body lying in a pool of blood. No weapon in {name removed by Walkman} hand. The call was a prank, one of many at the {name removed by Walkman} home this year. A lawn job. A brick through a window. Threatening phone calls. Paintball attacks.

The neighborhood is angry."

Additionally bloggers have splashed their name all over and many are urging a boycott of their business.


3:18 pm on Nov 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Tina Meier returned home to find her daughter sobbing at the computer. Meier sent Megan to her room.

Well that was a bright move.


10:15 pm on Nov 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

> Well that was a bright move.

Perfect parent that you are, voices, I would like to know the correct & proper course of action in such a situation. I, if no one else, would greatly benefit from your superior wisdom...


1:11 am on Nov 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

in hindsight it looks like a bad move, but you can't take them to the psych ward every time they cry :)


2:01 am on Nov 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well I wasn't suggesting they send her off the psych ward. Seems they would find out what the problem was rather then sending a depressed crying kid off to her room. Having since read several other accouts of the story, this may not be factual anyway.

We all have to deal with jerks in this world, so trying to lay blame on the other parents, stupid and mean as they were is pointless. School kids harrassing each other seems to be common place these days, not surprising if they have parents like the ones that pretended to be Josh.

A man, they were told, had been fatally shot inside a home.
Neighbors opened doors, peered out windows and watched. As many as 15 deputies, they said, drew weapons and charged the home of Lori and Curt Drew.

Then you have someone calling the cops saying someone was shot in the other parents home, just to harass them and you have to wonder how many other people were put at risk while the police were wasting their time with a false alarm.

There were no doubt many mistakes made all around, a series of events that led to the childs suicide, not entirely the fault of any one stupid person.


6:07 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

AP via Yahoo! News: No charges in MySpace suicide case [news.yahoo.com]

No criminal charges will be filed against people who sent cruel Internet messages to a 13-year-old girl before she committed suicide, the St. Charles County prosecutor said Monday.

The parents of Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, who hanged herself last year, said her suicide came minutes after she received mean messages through the social networking site MySpace.


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