Yesterday, a federal grand jury indicted a woman who allegedly caused the death of teenager Megan Meier by harassing her on MySpace. Now, I want to make clear that the girl’s death is no frivolous matter, and that I myself was horrified when I first heard the allegations. However I do think that marketers need to take note of the case because it indicates a trend of legal action against those – including illegitimate marketers – who abuse MySpace.
Lori Drew is being charged by federal officials in Los Angeles because there are federal laws that apply to the situation. Prosecutors in Missouri, where the alleged crimes happened, have said no state laws there are applicable to the case. Among the allegations is that Ms. Drew violated MySpace’s terms of service by creating a false account and using it to send false messages.
As horrible as the accusations are against Ms. Drew, they also come on the heels of prior abuse of MySpace that was addressed by federal courts. Last year, MySpace settled spam and breach-of-contract claims in a federal lawsuit against marketing company The Globe. A federal court ruled that ”e-messages” sent by The Globe, via false MySpace accounts to other MySpace users, qualified as abuse of email under both a California anti-spam statute and the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Among other things, the courts ruled that The Globe had transmitted emails containing false and misleading information – a similar allegation in Ms. Drew’s case.
I bring up the latter case for two reasons.
First, I want to add to the plethora of online commentators regarding the veracity of the case against Ms. Drew. Some say that the laws won’t stick, while others say that her case shouldn’t be tried in a Los Angeles-based federal court since the events happened in Missouri. But not only is MySpace is based in Los Angeles, such that the U.S. court there does have jurisdiction; also, the email spam case was successfully tried by a Los Angeles federal court, which found that The Globe was found liable in the spam case. All this indicates that there is precedent for MySpace abuse cases that follow it.
Secondly, this case shows that anyone using MySpace purely for marketing reasons should be more careful. True, I’m sure the majority of marketers don’t want to use their messages to hurt and upset their recipients. All the same, many people add ”friends” on a whim just for the sake of looking popular, and then get annoyed at the oodles of ”bulletins” (messages sent to everyone on a user’s friends list) and user-to-user emails sent by commercial MySpace accounts. They’re also displeased when they get repeat ”add requests” from the same accounts that they denied earlier. As the feds crack down on MySpace abuse by entities and individuals alike, marketers who spread messages like grass seed could next come under scrutiny. UPDATE: Indeed, the same week Ms. Drew was indicted, another federal court filed judgements of more than $225 million against MySpace spammers Sanford Wallance and Walter Rines, reported Information Week.
So although social networks are important for promoting certain brands (in the music and event industries, for example), they should not be their only marketing tools. Marketers who are serious about digital messaging need to use proper platforms, open policies, and permission-based campaigns that will prevent concerns about their legitimacy. Or at least, that won’t lump them in the same category as spammers and cyber-bullies.
Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm
“I’d rather you text me”