This is a difficult story on many fronts. In reading the facts, it is hard to believe that this kind of thing can happen. There may be a desire to blame the victim- who should have been “smarter.” There is also a desire to shake the perpetrator who clearly should have known better. But perhaps it is a cautionary tale that we can all learn something from on many levels- not only personal, but from a corporate standpoint as well.

On May 15, 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Lori Drew, 49, of O’Fallon, Missouri with one count of conspiracy and three counts of unauthorized computer access. If convicted, each count could net Ms Drew five years.

Why does this matter?

Allegedly, Ms. Drew, her 13 year old daughter, and Ms Ashley Grillis, 18, who was employed by the Drew family, created a fictitious MySpace profile for the purpose of harassing Megan Meier, a teenaged girl living on the same block as Drew and her family.

For the next four weeks, a flirtatious relationship blossomed between Ms Meier and the fictitious person that Drew and Grillis created. And then it suddenly ended with the fictitious person telling Megan “The world would be a better place without you.” Megan hung herself in her bedroom about an hour later.

State lawmakers gave final approval on May 17th to a bill intended to deal with cyber-harassment. This bill is expected to cover several aspects of technology, identifying as illegal the harassment from computers, text messages, and other electronic devices as well as standard written and telephone communications.

From eFlux Media:

Republican Governor Matt Blunt, who will soon sign the final version of the bill, issued a statement saying that the social networking sites and technology have provided criminals with a whole new set of weapons against their victims and the new protections and penalties are highly needed in order to ensure a safer environment for everyone.

While this case is certainly tragic, it is thankfully not the norm in social networking- a phenomenon that is taking the web, and business, by storm.

What it tells us is that there are definitely boundaries, and states are now recognizing those boundaries and stepping up to set laws in place to enforce those boundaries.

Blogs, wikis, and other social networking tools are beginning to find their way into the business corporate culture. They are useful tools for communication and collaboration between business partners in both the internal and external corporate structure and will continue to grow. According to Forrester Research, the foundation technology, Web 2.0, will cost business US$4.6 billion over the next five years, making Web 2.0 hotter in terms of growth than the area of business intelligence.

I can see that. Seems like everyone I meet wants to add me to one friend list or another.

But as business embraces social networking, one thing is clear. They will have to embrace some policy definitions along with the tools to insure that employees understand where the lines are firmly drawn.

Does your business use any kind of social networking tools? Do you have a community blog on your intranet or use a wiki to explain the workplace jargon? How does business set the standards for your communication?

More information:

Missouri woman charged in ‘cyber-bully’ case – (PCWorld)

Missouri lawmakers pass bill against cyber-harassment after MySpace suicide case – (LA Times)

Web 2.0 and social networking for business: Take the plunge – (CIO)

10 ways you might be breaking the law with your computer – (TechRepublic)