Monday, November 19, 2007
The Megan Meier Case
The Internet is abuzz with debate over the death of 13-year-old Megan Meier. She committed suicide after being jilted by a boy named Josh who had shown interest in her in the virtual world of MySpace. As it turns out, there was no Josh. He was a cruel hoax, the work of a neighbor whose daughter had had a falling out with Megan.
Authorities say no law was broken, so no charges can be filed. Many in the online forums are unconvinced and outraged. This post from "Cindy" is typical: "She is the DEVIL, evil beyond words and if she does not pay for this crime, she will when she burns in the hottest of hells when her soul goes to hell. Hell is not even hot enough for this lowest form of scum on the earth." (Read more>)
In reviewing coverage of the case, both online and in traditional media, the web has more passion and more information. Online posts have identified the woman, her husband, his employer, their business and its customers (complete with addresses and phone numbers). Meanwhile, traditional news organizations so far have withheld the name of the neighbor.
In one posting, someone who identified himself as a newspaper journalist wrote: "Every day newspaper journalism as we know it gets one step closer to death, as readers turn to blogs and TV and other media for information. This wimp of an editor, who doesn't have the guts to name the wrongdoers involved, has just hastened our eventual demise by at least another week or two."
There is a common assumption that traditional journalists do the reporting and the blogosphere sits back and provides commentary. In this case, as in so many, most of the reporting is being done online by private citizens. But the lingering question remains, are they journalists, vigilantes or both?
It is obvious from my review how much private citizens can contribute to a story. However, one is reminded of the importance of journalistic ethics and an understanding that in the U.S., we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.