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Online vigilantes' hue and cry

By Darlene Taylor - posted Tuesday, 15 January 2008

From a cruel boyfriend who didn’t exist, to the formation of an unforgiving mob, to tacky tribute sites and grown men taking the piss, the Internet hasn’t done much right when it comes to the Megan Meier case.

After being bullied by several people, including “Josh Evans”, a boy apparently invented by the mother of a former friend to snoop and/or exact revenge via MySpace, 13-year-old Meier hanged herself in her bedroom closet on October 16, 2006.

The possible involvement of an adult in the bullying - confirmed in a police report, but later largely denied in a statement issued by a lawyer - is a good reason to be appalled, and wonder why she didn’t just tell her daughter that friendships don’t always work.


Given the author/s of the messages that captivated Meier before breaking her heart might never be known for sure, demands for the woman accused of posting them, or at least of allowing them to be posted, to be charged with everything from harassment to murder are flawed.

Nevertheless, a blogger named Danny Vice has been all over the World Wide Web arguing that charges should be laid, as well as accusing city officials of being “corrupt” because none have been.

Vice’s desire for “some basic decency laws in regards to Internet usage” could become a problem for him if such legislation deems it offensive to post allegations of corruption on the Internet without any evidence.

If not for members of the blogosphere, we might never have learnt the identity of the mother of the former friend, not to mention her phone number, what she looks like, where she lives, what she does for a living and the clients who allow her to make a living, her husband’s name, what her husband looks like, and her husband’s workplace.

In response to the outing of “Mama MySpace”, an individual established a blog decrying vigilantism and the hypocrisy of those who “condemn what the adult woman allegedly did to the (sic) Megan Meier, yet they simultaneously encourage, enable, and facilitate their readers to take similar actions and worse against the adult woman and her family”.

The following passage from an article on Wired supports the position taken by the anti-vigilantes’ blogger, aka AES:


But the drive for social shaming - to right a wrong and restore social balance - can run amok and create paradoxical consequences, especially on the internet where people instigate mobs in ways they wouldn’t do offline.

“Internet shaming is done by people who want actually to enforce norms and to make people and society more orderly”, says Daniel Solove, professor of law at George Washington University and author of 'The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor (sic) and Privacy on the Internet'. “The problem is that internet shaming actually destroys social control and makes things more anarchic, and it becomes very hard to regulate and stop it.”

Alas, AES uses her site to reveal the personal details of one of the bloggers responsible for letting folks know where to aim their bricks, and abusive phone calls and letters.

The second post on Megan Meier Vigilantes hypothesises about the possible guilt of members of the medical profession and Meier’s mother in relation to the girl’s death.

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About the Author

Darlene Taylor writes for the popular group blog, Larvatus Prodeo.

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