Internet Naming — and Shaming

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

When the story of Megan Meier's suicide gained traction in the national press, we couldn't stop talking about it. Neither, apparently, could anyone else. In case you haven't followed the case, Megan Meier was the 13-year-old victim of an internet hoax that turned out to be perpetrated by an adult neighbor — the mother of a former friend. What really got us was the rage that boiled over on the web — first, the bad judgment of the hoaxer herself, and then from people angry about the case... cyber-vigilantes. When the newspaper declined to publish the name of the woman who created the false MySpace profile, bloggers from around the country took it upon themselves to find it out and publish it themselves, along with addresses, phone numbers, cell phones, and business information. The name calling on every side has been spectacularly vile, and at worst, included death threats. It begs the question: When gossip (true and untrue) can go viral, what principles should govern who we name — and don't name — on the web? Have you ever used the internet as a kind of pillory? Or been trapped in its stocks?

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First of all, gossip shouldn't be on the web.
Voice your opinions, fine!
But anything else you type, had better be true (or clearly stated as YOUR opinion)!
Intentional, hateful, mean-spirited comments are personal slurs! If printed (like in a blog), it can be libel! A libel suit can (and SHOULD) cost you lots of real money.
Be clear on stating your opinion,. "I believe"... "I think" ..."IMO"....IMHO" whatever.
Words typed are typed words. (blog, webpage, newspaper, Cosmo, Weekly World ... etc)

Music please:
You'll never hear one of us, repeating gossip..... So you'd better listen close the first time!

Sent by Harold | 2:35 PM | 11-27-2007

She should be shamed for the damage she did to that girls psyche. But she should not be harassed.

Sent by L. Yagla | 3:11 PM | 11-27-2007

How is what this mother did not similar to child porn or abuse - where a child is mislead and endangered. Through this women's reckless behavior she contributed to the death of a 12 year old girl.

Sent by Delilah Brock | 3:20 PM | 11-27-2007

I discovered that a married 43-old Chinese delivery driver, father of 3, was stalking my daughter after he made a food delivery to her. This man remembered her as a child when our family used to eat in the restaurant. He repeatedly called her (got her number from the take-out ticket), and returned to her appartment under false pretenses, and made inappropriate suggestions. A police report was filed. She had to vacate her apartment for several days. In response, I went to his place of work, took his picture (in public) and posted his name (first name only), photo, and cell phone number (from daughter's caller id) on my blog with instructions for people to call him and tell him what a creepy lout he was.

Sent by theministerofinformation | 3:21 PM | 11-27-2007

There was a heart breaking story of the suicide 13 year old Ryan Patrick Halligan after cyber bullying in the news a couple years ago. We learned how that dad handled those who had tormented his son -with dignity and forgiveness. He focused on raising awareness of cyber bullying and even succeeded in havnig legislation passed in efforts of trying to create a safter school environment in and out of the classroom.

Sent by seb, richmond ,va | 3:23 PM | 11-27-2007

I live in St. Louis where the incident took place. So far two municipalities have made cyber bullying a crime and it is now being researched to make it a statewide crime. I have no sympathy for this woman. She has shown no remorse for what she's done, although I do not wish her harm, she does deserve some retribution, even if it is just having her name made public. She should take responsibility for her actions.

Sent by Donna | 3:23 PM | 11-27-2007

An "adult" played with the mind of a 13 year old girl and "broke no law"? As the father of two daughters I would want to know who did this to my child. No harm should come to them, but being put into the electronic pillory is just.

Sent by Peter | 3:24 PM | 11-27-2007

What would make this woman Sarah Wells think that doing wrong to the woman she unmasked made anything better.

2 wrongs do not make a right.

Sent by Scott | 3:25 PM | 11-27-2007

This act, by definition, is vigilantism. In this case it is more than justified; simply ask yourself this question: What if it was your child? Although Sara Wells is not the parent, I think it is fair to say that she was acting in a parental way. IF the identity of Megan Meir's "boyfriend" was revealed earlier on and helped to prevent her death, would it have been justified then? It is our duty as parents to protect our children, and a failure to do that far transcends any legal issue that arises.

Sent by Steve in Arizona | 3:33 PM | 11-27-2007

One statement made by one of your interviewed news papers was that they chose "not" to publish the name of a young lady who was in the car of an official. When a reporter or news paper chooses to edit this information, the then becomes "journalism" and no longer the "news".

Sent by Hubert Samm | 3:46 PM | 11-27-2007

it is a tragic story and i feel for the family. some people need to remember that myspace is not real life. things said and done on that website are taken too seriously by some people.
if someone is harassing you, you can block them and cease contact with them. their attacks are only as effective as you make them.

Sent by kate | 3:48 PM | 11-27-2007

The story of Megan has taken a predictable path. First a tragedy. Then we find out who the "perp" was. Then public outrage and reaction against the "perp" and now a reaction to the reaction and a growing sympathy for the "perp".

What that woman and her husband did to Megan was immature, stupid, and inexcusable. And they are not the only people guilty of such behavior. Maybe the public reaction will persuade other adults to act like adults and leave the kids to solve their own conflicts.

Sent by George from Oregon | 3:53 PM | 11-27-2007

What if this woman felt so bad about what she did, and committed suicide because of the public retribution? Yes, of course she should take responsibility for her outrageous actions. Can't we as civilized people go through laws to see justice done?

Sent by Charlotte | 4:26 PM | 11-27-2007

First, shame is underrated. Whether the woman's actions were illegal or not, they were vile and cruel. She deserves contempt and condemnation. If nothing else, her daughter will learn from others -- if not from her --that this type of vicious behavior is not tolerated in our society. Second, this woman is a public menace. Knowing her propensity (even now without any guilt) for emotionally abusing children, would you want her daughter to be friends with yours? What if, heaven forbid, your child and hers have a falling out, as often happens with teenagers? Would you want this woman to even know the NAME of your child? It is a matter of public safety to let others know what she did, to protect future acquaintances of her child from similar actions.

Sent by Laura | 5:19 PM | 11-27-2007

I need to review this:
An adult used the Web to communicate with a 13 y.o. This adult recommended that this child, whose trust s/he had cultivated, kill herself. The child did as instructed.

And now we're discussing whether people's reaction and use of the Net for this reaction is wrong.

Let's review some basic facts.

When I use a piece of paper to write a letter, I am agreeing, although tacitly, that my words could exist forever.

When I pick up a hard-wired telephone handset, I am agreeing to a certain level of privacy but not to have my words recorded for posterity.

When I pick up a wireless handset, I am agreeing to an entirely different set of privacy protections.

I make these agreements by the act of picking up a pen, or wired or wireless handset.

When an adult turns on a computer and logs onto a social network, s/he is agreeing to be subject to all the power and vagaries of that means of communication.

Let's focus this discussion on root cause analysis: use of the net by an adult to lure a child to some action.

Let's make the adult a male.

Leave the child a female.

Now is the discussion different?

If you don't think so, please review all the politically and culturally accepted web pages tracking male sex crime convicts who, having paid their debt to society as society demanded, continue to be named and shamed.

Sent by tom benzoni | 8:57 AM | 11-28-2007

In the past, small communities did the same thing by word-of-mouth. As people migrated to larger and larger communities, the illegal acts have become more and more blatant. I have no problem in holding people to the rules of common decency. It's only a shock because we've become used to not being held to any standards.

Sent by jkb | 10:40 AM | 11-28-2007

I had a online harasser from another nation. THere are laws and I have them all in one place now. Time for me to write a book. I got cops to do soemthing when they said I was not going to get help. I did the legal research. THis case in MO made me sick. The mom who started this can be prosecuted and I want someone who knnows the parents to pls contact me. I am now posting every cyber elec comm safety law I can find from the feds and then some. Intl laws can apply in many of these cases but you have to be willing to do the work yourself and not expect the calvery to rescue you!

Folks cyber harassing laws at the fed level do exist and cases have been won!

For those how harass and think you are innocent you are not. Mind your manners or the cops may come knocking on your door.

It took me 4 years and a state and a province and the net and I won! I outed the person on the net in her own forum and gave her chance to say why she hunted me down and to explain helself and how would she like it if her employer which she listed herself all over the net, know about her behavior. I found our that her work a school would fire her.

I finally began to act like her and she felt as

Sent by Cat | 11:04 AM | 11-28-2007

Something not addressed on the show yesterday. Did the press make THAT WOMAN's name more enticing by not providing the name? The original story gives us this tragic story and then at the end say they will not name the perpatrator. Readers read that, see that no justice has been done AND the paper seems to be protecting the predator.
Would they have been better off not naming her and also not commenting about not naming her?
Would things not be so bad if they had just named her?

Later stories, used THAT WOMAN's name as a matter-of-fact? By doing that way, and not pointing out that it was hidden before, makes the name itself less appealing or significant.

Is some of the cyber vigilantism spawned by the outrage that police and prosecutors seem incompetent? This was made public on the heels of another case in St Chas County where the perpatrator of online harassment was charged with littering. Yes littering!

While I don't agree with threats against THAT WOMAN, body or home. I feel that the negative attention given to her business is 'just desserts' in many folks' eyes.

Sent by Suzanne in St Louis | 11:40 AM | 11-28-2007

Sometimes online vigilantes expose people who deserve to be avoided.

Sent by Amy Snider | 1:10 PM | 11-28-2007

Nicely said Kate, George:
[kate | 3:48 PM ET | 11-27-2007]
[George from Oregon | 3:53 PM ET | 11-27-2007]

But one important thing to keep in mind.
I can "turn-off" a cyber-bully!

Just say "OFF",just say "BLOCK",just say "OFF"",just say "BLOCK" .......

Sent by Harold | 1:56 PM | 11-28-2007

I was simply appalled by this story. I hope this woman (mother)was arrested for negligent homicide. What kind of a sick adult would harrass a teenage in such a cruel way? Shaming her should be the least of the public's worries. The woman should be incarcerated.

Sent by Mary Ann - Annandale | 2:31 PM | 11-28-2007

My son is on the sex-registry list. The picture they chose to use really LOOKS like a sex predator. Yes, the girl who lied about my son almost 13 yrs. ago told the truth finally and if you heard why she did it, you would know she is now telling the truth.
My son has suffered much because of this. He is mentally ill and that has something to do with his appearance. He's never taken care of his teeth and he has very bad acne.
He may have to be on the registry for the rest of his life though because what I have learned is that even when someone had no record (which my son did not) and even when they have terrible legal representation (which my son did) and was never even told if he took the Alford plea,it was the same as admitting guilt in the eyes of the law, so far his name has not been cleared.
His lawyer never answered the direct question I put to him "is this a felony?" and he got angry when I suggested to my son that "we think about it".
Unless you have been falsely accused of this horrible crime, you cannot believe the kind of fear it incurs. And my son was unable to fight back. He did not understand at all why this girl lied about it. Now we know. The Baltimore City Paper is the only one that did five stories on his case from 8/07 to 1/08. But the Sun and all 3 of the major TV stations did only sensational, fear mongering that fed the city hysteria. Every day I fear that my son will end up beaten or killed by someone who wants to punish him. And this is someone who never hurt anyone. His accuser ended up saying "he's the nicest person you'd ever want to meet".

Sent by Patricia W. | 5:35 PM | 8-15-2008

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