After the article was already published, I received an email from Sarah Wells, whom I had contacted for the story (I didn't hear back before the deadline). She offered her insight into the issue of online mobs, particularly in the case of Lori Drew:
I apologise for not responding sooner; though your message was overlooked, I appreciate your attempt to contact me.In response I wrote the following:
I looked for articles with your name this morning, and the MSN piece popped right up.
I have my opinions about Solove's arguments, and would take issue with him on several points, including some of the liberties he has taken with facts surrounding the anecdotes he uses to support his theses. I don't know if he was your source for the following text from your article, but it is not a minor point, and ought to be
corrected. Solove himself is aware of this and I would hope he would be kind enough to have corrected this point already:
"One by one, they found out where she worked, and called her boss and her clients. Soon, death threats came over the phone and in e-mail. Then a brick sailed through a window of the Drews' house. Someone shot at their sun room with a paintball gun."
The brick sailed through the window about a YEAR BEFORE the Pokin-authored story hit the Suburban Journals, and before the internet reaction to that article. Likewise the paintball shooting. The Drew's installed a security system because of acts of vandalism well before the Pokin story appeared or Lori Drew's name was
circulated on the internet.
I have not been inclined to engage in a dry intellectual discussion of the Meier case with Solove or anyone else, though Solove did generously attempt to solicit my own opinons when I wrote him to correct a point regarding myself. But I find his arguments have significant weaknesses. They do not allow for the private and public good that results that otherwise might not without public pressure and publicity of bad acts. They do not comprehend that there are natural checks on the relentless mob, as well. ( But I am sure you have little interest in what I would have to say on the subject.)
My decision to name Drew before the press (a day or two away at most) was based on knowlege that charges pending against Ron Meier might be dropped or nolle prossed as a result of exposure and public pressure.
In fact, this has happened, and I am convinced that their exposure has something to do with this. I would expect that their attorney pressed them to petition the prosecutor to drop charges, to reduce factors that would tend to cause public outrage to persist, and act in a way that could help lead to a more favorable outcome in any civil action taken against them.
FWIW, My husband corresponded with "cell-phone guy", one of Soloves cautionary cybervigilatne tales, and there was some distortion by Solove in that case, much resented by the subject. To me it seems the truth should be enough...and that setting facts straight matters.
To that I only add I do not think Drew a "murderer". I see her as a foolish person who caused enormous harm with am agmitted plan to "mess with" an unstable 13 yo for self-serving, and probably malicious intention; probably guilty of a civil tort whether a lawsuit is ever filed against her or not. She did not deserve the cloak of anonymity, and it is no small point that she dragged the matter into the public sphere herself by calling police when the Meier's would not speak to her, the thanksgiving weeked following Megan's death.
Thank you for getting back to me, Sarah. I wish I had heard back from you sooner, because I certainly would have liked to add your viewpoint to the article. I cited the Lori Drew case and your blog's involvement because it is the most recent example of this phenomenon. I will post your comments on my blog, which is linked to from the MSN article.Personally, I don't think you can hold Lori responsible for Megan's suicide. Lori, by all accounts, had nothing to do with the mean messages that were sent on that tragic day. They were sent by kids. Mean kids, of course, but kids who were too immature to realize the harm they could be causing. A bullied, teased kid with low self esteem finally reached the point where she couldn't take it anymore. Could Lori Drew have anticipated that kids would use the fake MySpace page to engage in harassment? Perhaps. But to imply that she used her knowledge of Megan's fragile state to create a sinister plan encouraging the girl to commit suicide is to imply something that lies outside the realm of believability.
Personally, I agree with you that in many cases, public outrage is a good thing in that it motivates authorities to action. My article wasn't trying to refute this. The article's point was that the anonymity of the web, and a "group-think" mentality can often lead to online mobs that seek revenge and retribution instead of justice. Urging the authorities to do something is one thing... harassing a suspect's family is another. Should Lori's husband and daughter to be subjected to the crazy threats of anonymous people? Should they no longer be able to live their lives without fear? We do not live in a society where outraged individuals can decide appropriate punishment-- that is what the law is for.
Yes, sadly, no law existed to punish Lori Drew. But does that mean the punishment should be left up to the internet masses? Will they act in a responsible way? The death threats, the drive bys, the deliberate campaign to destroy the Drew's family business seems to indicate that they won't. There is little doubt that the internet has signifigantly contributed to the ongoing harrassment the Drews face. When people's addresses, phone numbers, and other personal info makes it to the web, it's fair game for any vigilante anywhere in the world... a frightening prospect.
I would greatly appreciate learning your thoughts, even though MSN might not be interested in running a follow-up article.
Lori's creation of the MySpace page was a mistake. I'm not defending that. And she compounded her mistake by her attitude of self-preservation afterward. But by no means does her action-- the creation of a fake MySpace page-- make her a monster, worthy of violent threats and ongoing harassment from the internet masses.