“The use of the anti-hacking law to charge [Lori] Drew [in a notorious case of identity-hoax cruelty whose target committed suicide] was criticized by experts who said it set a dangerous precedent that could potentially make a felon out of anyone who violated the terms of service of any website — a prospect that is particularly troubling, they said, because terms-of-service agreements sometimes contain onerous provisions, are often arbitrarily and unilaterally changed by companies, and are rarely read by users.” (Kim Zetter, Wired News, Sept. 5). Earlier: May 16.
In May 2006, 14-year-old Texas girl “Julie Doe” listed herself as 18 on her MySpace profile (so she could circumvent the site’s child safety features) and snuck out of her house to surreptitiously meet with a boy she met on MySpace the previous month. Unfortunately for her, the boy was also lying; Pete Solis was not a high-school athlete, but a 19-year-old that (allegedly) raped her. (Solis claims the sex was consensual and that he didn’t know about the illegal age difference, though knowledge ususally isn’t a defense in statutory rape cases.)
The family blamed MySpace and sued in multiple jurisdictions, omitting Solis from the most recent iteration of the suit. The suit was dismissed under the website hosting immunity protections of the Communications Decency Act; and Friday, the dismissal was affirmed by a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit (via Childs). We covered the suit in detail in 2006; for that, and other MySpace litigation, see our MySpace tag.
In April, Solis pleaded guilty to reduced charges of felony injury to a child, and will serve 90 days over the course of five years, and will register as a sex offender. (Jen Biundo, “Buda teen gets 90 days in jail, seven years on sex offender list”, The Free Press (Buda), April 23). His attorney? Adam Reposa, known for other reasons. One presume’s Solis’s even more ludicrous lawsuit against MySpace has met a similar fate.
Paul McNamara, at NetworkWorld, takes exception, calling the Houston lawyer’s pronouncement a “steaming pile of flapdoodle” (Jan. 19; Joe Garofoli, “Families of sexually abused girls sue MySpace, alleging negligence”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 19)(earlier).
“Four families have sued News Corp. and its MySpace social-networking site after their underage daughters were sexually abused by adults they met on the site, lawyers for the families said Thursday.” (Jessica Mintz, AP/LA Times, Jan. 19). Earlier: Jul. 19 and links therein.
Update: Link fixed.
Yesterday I was a guest on two radio shows. I joined Ron Smith on Baltimore’s WBAL to discuss my article, just out, on the lawsuit against MySpace for failing to chaperone a teenage user. And I joined Grover Norquist on his Rightalk broadcast to talk about the politics of liability reform.
I’ve got a new online column up at the British paper, my second. I discuss the recent lawsuit seeking to blame the social-networking site for not providing a virtual chaperone for a 14-year-old Texas user who went out on an inadvisable date. (Walter Olson, “Teens, sex, and MySpace”, Times (U.K.), Jul. 18). For earlier coverage of the MySpace suit, see Jun. 21, Jun. 23, and Jun. 26.
Tom Zeller, writing on the MySpace lawsuit, quotes observers who unanimously condemn the species of nanny-state lawsuit, and quotes blogger Ken Chan:
“I recognize that there’s a certain part of the population who don’t know a steady fried chicken diet is bad for them. I feel bad for these people,” Mr. Chan wrote. “However, these are probably the same people who don’t put on their seatbelts and who suck down endless coffee during the day and Coors at night. So let’s be honest with ourselves here. You’re not going to save these people. You’re just screwing up the chicken for the rest of us.”
Zeller probably didn’t get the memo from the Times editors about the “benefits” of such lawsuits, but we’ll no doubt see some plaintiffs’ attorney defending the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit in the letters section. (Tom Zeller Jr., “A Lesson for Parents on ‘MySpace Madness'”, New York Times, Jun. 26). Mildly related, and encouraging for what it says about people starting to be annoyed by the food police: Fluffernutter controversy in Massachusetts.
Via Childs, Pete Solis, the 19-year-old who allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old Austin, Texas, girl whose family is suing the MySpace website where the two met, is, Time Magazine reports, contemplating his own litigation against MySpace on the grounds that it made him think he was meeting a 15-year-old.
“MySpace wasn’t there when they went to Whataburger. MySpace wasn’t there when they went to the movie and MySpace wasn’t there when they climbed in the backseat,” [Solis attorney Adam] Reposa said. “Meeting on MySpace — if that alone is enough, then we can make the same claim for damages.”
On MySpace, a 19-year-old Texas youth approached a 14-year-old girl; his profile claimed that he was a high school senior on the football team. She says that following a series of emails and phone calls, she went out with him and their evening on the town culminated in his sexually assaulting her, for which Rupert Murdoch should pay $30 million as owner of the social networking site. Still to come: suits against shopping malls, ice cream shops and music venues for providing environments in which older teens can approach younger ones and sweet-talk them into eventual dangerous situations. (Claire Osborn, “Teen, mom sue MySpace.com for $30 million”, Austin American-Statesman, Jun. 20). Prof. Childs has more, here and here, as do Joanne Jacobs, KipEsquire and Shakespeare’s Sister.