01 Dec 2008

The End of Fake Avatars?

Last week I eavesdropped on a tweet that Lee Odden sent to Marty Weintraub. The tweet was about the recent ruling in the Myspace suicide case where a judge basically made it a felony to lie about your identity on the Internet. Given all the debate that has taken place over the issue of fake avatars in social media (I love that Bruce Clay ranks first for that, heh), I know people must have opinions on what took place. I’d be very interested in hearing them.

In case you’re not familiar with what happened, 49-year-old Lori Drew created a fake MySpace account under the name Josh Evans and then used it to flirt with and then torment a 16-year-old girl who had a falling out with her daughter. The young girl, who already suffered from depression, eventually hanged herself in her bedroom shortly after reading Lori’s final message which included the classless words that the world would be much better without Megan.  (Aren’t people awesome to one another?)

With all the press this case got, the courts needed to make some kind of statement with this ruling. A 16-year-old girl is dead because of a sick adult who should have known better. And with their ruling, they made that statement.  But does the ruling go too far?

As much as I want there to be a ruling that makes it wrong for marketers and others to create fake avatars to deceive others, this ruling reaches way too far, in my opinion. I mean, should QualityGal really be thrown in jail because she “hides” and “lies” about who she is online for privacy reasons? I’d think not.

Should Barack Obama be arrested because he allows people to Twitter in his name? No.

Do I think marketers selling a product should be locked up for toeing the line between evangelism and outright deception? No, I don’t.

But I also don’t want fake avatars and other forms of deception in my social networks. Call me a naive bunny, but I don’t want “Ana” the soy candle enthusiast friending me when I know she isn’t a real person. I don’t want people using social media to hurt one another.  I think there needs to be laws to protect children from cyberbullying. But where’s the line?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m hoping that you’ll share your opinions in the comments on where you think the line is and your thoughts on the MySpace suicide ruling. How do we make people accountable on the Internet without making lying on the Web a prosecutable crime? We need to do something to protect that space that employs us all. I really am interested in hearing your thoughts on this so I hope that you’ll chime in. This ruling could affect all of us.

Marty, I’m looking at you.