Death by Deception: The Tragedy of Megan Meiers
The death of 14-year-old Megan Meiers resulted directly from the unethical behavior of an adult, Lori Drew. As a politician would say, ‘no laws were broken,” and that is undoubtedly true. But if one is looking for a real life example of why it is critical to be aware of ethical principles, the story of Megan Meiers’ suicide is a cautionary tale.
Megan was an insecure teenager who had begun to find herself. A new school, 20 pounds lost and the first stirrings of confidence and self-esteem had her upbeat and optimistic for the first time in months. Adding to her happiness was a burgeoning web romance. A cute high school boy named Josh Evans was courting her on MySpace.com. He told Megan she had pretty eyes, and that she was pretty. Soon they were exchanging messages regularly.
But “Josh” didn’t exist. A 13-year-old former friend of Megan’s at her previous school had heard rumors that Megan had called her a lesbian. The friend’s mother, who was also friends with Megan’s parents, devised a way to get even. Lori Drew helped her daughter create a MySpace account belonging to handsome Josh Evans, and together they authored the on-line flirtation. Then the kicker: imaginary Josh dumped Megan. One day Megan logged on to MySpace and found a message from Josh, declaring he didn’t want to be friends anymore “because I hear you’re mean to your friends.” As Megan desperately quizzed Josh on why he had turned on her, other girls who knew Megan began a MySpace “bash Megan” fest. Soon, “bulletins” were going out, linking friend-list to friend-list, broadcasting over cyberspace that Megan Meier was fat, a slut, a bad friend that no one should trust or care about.
She looped a belt around her neck and hanged herself in a closet that night.
Panicked, Lori Drew took down Josh’s MySpace account when she heard. After her involvement was revealed, her family and home became the target of community fury and internet vigilantes. Now, more than a year after Megan’s death, the Drews are in hiding. The Meiers’ marriage has been destroyed by the stress of Megan’s death and its aftermath. Another teenaged girl who helped the Drews execute their hoax is now in psychiatric care, and has contemplated suicide.
Obviously Lori Drew did not intend for Megan to die, or to set in motion a series of events that has destroyed so many lives. Obviously it was something that nobody could have predicted; the vast majority of web hoaxes simply cause anger and distress but nothing more. But there is a reason why we declare certain kinds of conduct unethical. Dishonesty is unethical because it tends to cause harm. How much harm any particular lie will cause is unpredictable, but that in itself is reason to be wary. Sometimes a lie will be a catalyst for disaster, as it was in this case.
The prescription for avoiding such horrible events is so simple and clear. Lori Drew could probably recite it from memory, as can almost everyone. It is ageless wisdom that appears in most world religions and cultures in various forms, but always with the same message: it is wrong to treat others in ways that you would never want others to treat you. If Lori Drew had simply found it in her heart and memory soon enough, Megan Meiers would be alive today.
And that’s why it’s called “The Golden Rule.”