By Lateigra C. Cahill
A few weeks ago, Missouri officials arrested Elizabeth Thrasher (40), for posting a fake No-Strings-Attached-Sex ad on the Craigslist “Casual Encounters” section. The sex ad included the photograph, cell phone number, and place of employment of a 17-year-old girl (Thrasher’s ex-husband’s girlfriend’s daughter). Investigators say that the girl received phone calls, text messages and nude pictures as a result of the ad. Thrasher faces felony charges with up to four years in state prison.
This is the first arrest made under Missouri’s expansion of their harassment statute to address “cyberbullying” after the highly publicized Myspace Suicide Case.
Shortly after Thrasher’s arrest, Federal Judge George Wu acquitted Lori Drew (the Missouri mom in the Myspace case) on grounds of unconstitutional vagueness. Federal prosecutors charged Drew criminally under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) for breaching the Myspace “Terms of Service” agreement by creating a fictional boy’s profile to communicate with Megan prior to her suicide.
Despite the hard facts of the case, Judge Wu recognized the civil liberties at stake:
• First, Wu points out that under the void-for-vagueness doctrine, a statute (or in this case the “clickwrap”) must expressly define what prohibited behavior is a criminal offense and what is a civil offense. Here, ordinary people wouldn’t expect that creating a false profile (without the intention of doing something expressly criminal like, say, stealing money from someone) could be criminal.
• Second, Wu recognizes the large and sweeping effects on personal freedom that would result in criminal prosecution of “fake profiles”. Examples given by Wu in the opinion are 1) “lonely-hearts” that post photo-shopped pictures or give exaggerated stats, 2) people who post pictures of their friends at parties without their permission, and most strikingly, 3) 13-year-old Megan Meier’s own profile that falsly stated she was 14. (the Myspace Terms of Service requires that users be 14 or older.) Wu states that, “No one would seriously suggest that Megan’s conduct was criminal. . .” (pg 30 of the Opinion)
Federal prosecutors were grasping for straws to convict Drew under the CFAA, but in my opinion it may not have been out of desperation for justice. The fact is that Drew’s conviction would’ve vastly expanded prosecutorial discretion and the feds often target highly gendered and sexualized situations to make power grabs because they are so sensationalized in the media. (The vengeful older woman/mom, the internet “boy” crush, the blonde pre-teen with braces who commits suicide—all factors that spark our unconscious interest in the case and drive the public’s thirst for justice.)
So it’s no coincidence that the first arrest in Missouri under the revised harassment statue had facts that not only mirrored Drew’s case, but were even more sexualized than Drew’s case. (The No-strings-attached-sex, the ex-husband’s girlfriend’s barely legal daughter, the nude pictures.) It just seems highly unlikely that this is the only prank ad that’s been posted on Craigslist in Missouri lately, yet it’s the first arrest that’s been made under this law.
Fear driven by unconscious prejudice is the most powerful device for urging citizens to willingly relinquish constitutional rights. If you need an example, think about the racist-fueled-fear that legitimized the US PATRIOT act in the minds of normally big-government-hating conservatives.
Vengeful, jealous, manipulative women (read – too emotional and unable to be controlled by “men” a.k.a. society) that prey on beautiful young girls (read – passive victims that need protection from society) are classic Jungian/biblical archetypes. Archetypes and stereotypes are the source for most forms of prejudice in our society which in turn are used to motivate fear and submission to the institutions that have been established to “protect” us.
As long as federal prosecutors and legislatures can find sexualized female targets to enrage us, we won’t even question the expansion of cyberlaw regulations and our loss of individual freedoms. Sacrifices will have to be made, because these crazy-vengeful-bitches need to be stopped.
Editor’s Note: Please Welcome Lateigra Cahill as the latest Satyriconista!
LaTeigra is a law student at University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. LaTeigra’s main legal interests are free speech rights, anti-censorship issues, government suppression, cyber law, art and politics. LaTeigra is the Co-Chair/Co-Founder of Hastings Advocates for the Arts, an active student organization that promotes freedom of self expression through integrating visual and performance arts into law school culture.