Friday, October 24, 2008

Online Divorcee Jailed After Murdering Virtual Husband

(just when you thought you'd heard it all! - Fighter)

A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband's digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.
Divorce Pictures, Images and Photos

The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.

The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged, but if convicted could face a prison term of up to five years or a fine up to $5,000.

Players in "Maple Story" raise and manipulate digital images called "avatars" that represent themselves, while engaging in relationships, social activities and fighting against monsters and other obstacles.

The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married, and killed the character. The man complained to police when he discovered that his beloved online avatar was dead.

The woman was arrested Wednesday and was taken across the country, traveling 620 miles from her home in southern Miyazaki to be detained in Sappporo, where the man lives, the official said.

The police official said he did not know if she was married in the real world.

In recent years, virtual lives have had consequences in the real world. In August, a woman was charged in Delaware with plotting the real-life abduction of a boyfriend she met through "Second Life," another virtual interactive world.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Teacher Fired for Bad Behavior on MySpace

by J. Neuberger

It's not just students who can get into difficulty for school-related blogging.

In a recent case, a federal court rejected a challenge brought by a non-tenured teacher when the public school at which he taught decided not to renew his contract. The school had accused the teacher of overly familiar contacts with students via his MySpace page that were deemed "disruptive to school activities."
myspace friends icon Pictures, Images and Photos

Spanierman v. Hughes
In Spanierman v. Hughes, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69569 (D. Conn. Sept. 16, 2008), Jeffrey Spanierman, a teacher at Emmett O'Brien High School in Ansonia, Connecticut, created a MySpace page, ostensibly "to communicate with students about homework, to learn more about the students so he could relate to them better, and to conduct casual, non-school related discussions."

One of Spanierman's school colleagues became concerned about the page, which she said contained, among other things, pictures of naked men with "inappropriate comments" underneath them. She was also concerned about the nature of the personal conversations that the teacher was having with the students, and she convinced Spanierman to remove the page, which she considered "disruptive to students."

Spanierman subsequently created a new MySpace page, however, that included similar content and similar personal communications with students. When the colleague learned of the new page, she reported it to the school administration, which placed Spanierman on administrative leave and ultimately declined to renew his teaching contract for the following year. After hearings that he attended with his union representative and later with his attorneys, he received a letter stating that he had "exercised poor judgment as a teacher."

Legal Issues
The discipline of a teacher for conduct outside the classroom raises a number of legal issues, depending upon the circumstances: Is the school public or private? Did the teacher have a contract with the school that gives the teacher rights with respect to job termination? Are there state statutes that impose standards on the teacher, or obligations on the school with respect to teacher discipline? Did the conduct involve expression that may be protected by the First Amendment? Did the conduct have a connection to the school environment?

Spanierman was employed by a public school, consequently, the school's ability to take disciplinary action was limited by both the federal and state constitutions, in particular the First Amendment and the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Spanierman claimed that both his "procedural" and his "substantive" due process rights were violated.

As a non-tenured teacher, Spanierman was more vulnerable to the school's evaluation of his conduct than a tenured teacher might have been.

The nature of the "procedure" to which an individual is entitled under the due process clause depends upon the nature of the right the individual is claiming. The minimum procedure to which an individual is usually entitled is notice and an opportunity to be heard. Spanierman based his procedural due process claim on the Connecticut Teacher Tenure Act, which he claimed gave him certain procedural rights, i.e., a period of notice and a hearing, and termination only for just cause. The court found that Spanierman had received notice and a hearing, but that neither the Connecticut Statute nor the teacher's union-negotiated agreement required a showing of just cause for a decision not to renew a non-tenured teacher's contract.

A claim of substantive due process focuses on the nature of the action taken by government rather than the procedure by which it is undertaken, i.e., whether the governmental action is arbitrary or without justification. The court also rejected Spanierman's substantive due process claim that the public school's action was arbitrary, egregious and outrageous, again relying on Spanierman's non-tenured status, and the fact that non-renewal of a non-tenured teacher's contract was the type of event specifically anticipated in the union-negotiated employment agreement.
Selective Prosecution?

Apparently, Spanierman was not the only teacher in the school with a MySpace page. Accordingly, he made a "selective prosecution" argument, pointing to two other teachers at his school who also had MySpace pages but who had not been disciplined. Spanierman argued that he had been treated differently than his colleagues in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection clause. The court dismissed that claim on purely legal and on factual grounds, i.e., that Spanierman failed to show that the other teachers had contact with students via their MySpace pages. Consequently, the court concluded, the situations of the other teachers were not analogous to Spanierman's (they were not "similarly situated") and therefore he had not been treated differently in comparison to them.

Spanierman's free speech claim was rejected as well. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that both students and teachers retain free speech rights in the school environment, those rights are not unrestricted. See, for example, Morse v. Frederick, 127 S. Ct. 2618 (2007), the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case, where the U.S. Supreme Court famously upheld the discipline of a student for unfurling a banner containing a pro-drug message at a school-sponsored event, on the grounds that the banner violated a school policy against the display of material advertising or promoting the use of illegal drugs.
Disruptive to School Activities
bong hits 4 Jesus Pictures, Images and Photos

The school district judged that Spanierman's behavior on his MySpace page was "likely to disrupt school activities." It is on this point that the court drilled down to Spanierman's contacts with his students. Excerpts of a number of exchanges with students were included in the opinion. And while to some these exchanges may seem innocuous, the court concluded as follows:
In the court's view, it was not unreasonable for the Defendants to find that the Plaintiff's conduct on MySpace was disruptive to school activities. The above examples of the online exchanges the Plaintiff had with students show a potentially unprofessional rapport with students, and the court can see how a school's administration would disapprove of, and find disruptive, a teacher's discussion with a student about "getting any" (presumably sex), or a threat made to a student (albeit a facetious one) about detention.

Moreover, there is evidence of complaints about the Plaintiff's MySpace activities. For example, in her affidavit, Ford states that Emmett O'Brien students informed her of the Plaintiff's MySpace conduct, which made some of them "uncomfortable."...It is reasonable for the Defendants to expect the Plaintiff, a teacher with supervisory authority over students, to maintain a professional, respectful association with those students. This does not mean that the Plaintiff could not be friendly or humorous; however, upon review of the record, it appears that the Plaintiff would communicate with students as if he were their peer, not their teacher. Such conduct could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of a school, which sufficiently outweighs the value of Plaintiff's MySpace speech.

Nothing New?
It's possible to view the Spanierman case as a cautionary tale on using new forms of communication in the educational environment. Spanierman said he intended to use his MySpace page to better relate to his students; indeed the case demonstrates that such a page can facilitate easy communication between teachers and students. But it is that easy familiarity that, in the view of the school district, drew Spanierman over the line between acceptable discourse and inappropriate communications. The severity of the punishment may also reflect an institutional discomfort with a new means of student-teacher communication that is outside the channels customarily controlled by the school district.

And, of course, the Spanierman case could also be viewed as a simple case of inappropriate communications with students, regardless of the medium involved. Although reasonable minds may differ on whether Spanierman's communications warranted the discipline he received, the court ruled that, under the circumstances, it was the school district's call to make.

It's Not the First, and It Won't Be the Last
This is not the first case in which a teacher, or an aspiring teacher, was discharged or disciplined for conduct involving a MySpace page. In another recent case, the so-called "drunken pirate" case, a teacher in training was denied a teaching degree just prior to her graduation when officials at her teaching school found a photo on her MySpace page showing her in a pirate hat, drinking alcohol. In Snyder v. Millersville University, filed in federal court in Pennsylvania (the case documents are available here), there was apparently no contact with students, and it is disputed whether any students at the school ever saw the photo or the MySpace page. The school district contends that Snyder's conduct as a student teacher was unprofessional in ways unrelated to her MySpace page.

The Snyder case is also complicated by the question of whether the aspiring teacher should be treated under the legal standards applicable to student conduct or the standard applicable to teacher conduct. Snyder v. Millersville appears to be heading for trial. It will be interesting to see if the result in the case differs from that in Spanierman.

The Bottom Line
Both the Spanierman and Snyder cases are a subset of a larger category of disputes that involve posting in online forums, blogs and social networking sites. Regardless of the rights implicated, these cases remind us to be mindful of the ramifications that may flow from online personal expression that is readily accessible to students, co-workers, and employers.

Jeffrey D. Neuburger is a partner in the New York office of Proskauer Rose LLP, and co-chair of the Technology, Media and Communications Practice Group. His practice focuses on technology and media-related business transactions and counseling of clients in the utilization of new media. He is an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching E-Commerce Law.


Thank you to the tipster who sent this to us!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Man Stabs Wife to Death Over Facebook Posting

A man has been jailed for life for stabbing his wife to death over a posting she made on the social networking site Facebook.

Wayne Forrester, 34, told police he was devastated that his wife Emma, also 34, had changed her online profile to "single" days after he had moved out.
facebook Pictures, Images and Photos
The Old Bailey heard Forrester drove to her home in Croydon, south London, and attacked the mother-of-two.

He stabbed her with a kitchen knife and a meat cleaver on 18 February.

Forrester, who pleaded guilty to murder, was ordered to serve a minimum term of 14 years.

Judge Brian Barker, the Common Serjeant of London, told him:
"You committed a terrible act. There is no possible excuse or justification.

"This is a tragic killing and what you have done has caused untold anguish."

Forrester, an HGV driver, was drunk and high on cocaine when he attacked the mother of two in the early hours as she slept.

He beat her, tore out clumps of her hair, and repeatedly stabbed her in the head and neck.

Neighbours were woken up by her screams. They found him sitting outside the house covered in blood and called the police.

The court heard Forrester thought his wife, a payroll administrator, was having an affair and had threatened to kill her.

The couple, who had been together for 15 years, had a "volatile" marriage, jurors were told.

'Devastated and humiliated'
The day before the murder, he called her parents and complained about his wife's Facebook entry which he said "made her look like a fool", the court heard.

In a statement to police Forrester said:
"Emma and I had just split up. She forced me out.

"She then posted messages on an internet website telling everyone she had left me and was looking to meet other men.

"I loved Emma and felt totally devastated and humiliated about what she had done to me."
facebook cat Pictures, Images and Photos
In a victim impact statement, Mrs Forrester's sister Liza Rothery said the murder had had a "devastating" impact on her and parents Frances and Robert.

Miss Rothery added: "What on earth could Emma have done to result in such a brutal, callous attack on a defenseless woman?"


Friday, October 03, 2008

Stabbed to Death by Fellow Online Gamer?

By Andrew Levy

Online murder: Matthew Pyke could have been killed by a fellow gamer
A computer gaming fan found stabbed to death in his home may have been killed by a fellow gamer he fell out with in an online forum, it has emerged.

The blood-stained body of Matthew Pyke, 20, is understood to have been found by his girlfriend, Joanna Witton.

The couple ran a website called Wars Central where fans of Advance Wars, a computer game for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance or Nintendo DS in which armies of cartoon characters battle against each other, discuss strategies.

One of the theories being pursued by officers is that a member might have taken revenge on Mr Pyke following a dispute in cyberspace.

An anonymous comment posted on the site suggested other members suspected one of their own of the brutal murder.
'I think I speak on behalf of those of us which do know a fair bit about what happened not to press us with questions,' the author wrote.
'We may know a lot of what was going on prior to the killing but I, for one, am not going to say any more.'
Another member, using the pseudonym The Evil One, paid tribute to Mr Pyke as 'witty, intelligent, furiously protective of the site, the forum and its members'.

Advance Wars is a popular series of games where the object is to defeat the enemy army by either capturing their headquarters or destroying all of their units.

Mr Pyke's website offered strategy guides for the series of games as well as an internet forum where members could chat to each other and share tips on playing the game.
Wars Central

Wars Central, the website devoted to the Advance Wars computer game, run by Matthew Pyke and his girlfriend Joanna Witton.

An entry on the site from August 16 by JoJo, believed to be Joanna Witton, mentions they were having internet connection problems which had prevented information being uploaded onto the site.

Mr Pyke's body was found on Friday evening in the flat above The Orange Tree, a popular student pub in the centre of Nottingham.

There were no signs of a break-in at the Nottingham flat the students shared and police believe he may have known his killer.

He is understood to have been about to start a new degree course at Nottingham Trent University after failing to complete a physics course he joined in 2006.

Detectives examined his computer and discovered he was a keen video gamer who went under the name 'Shade' on the Central Wars site and had published science fiction stories on the internet.

Forensics officers are still examining the flat.
Mr Pyke moved to Nottingham from his home town of Stowmarket, Suffolk, two years ago.

His parents William, 52, and Kim, 49, were too upset to comment yesterday. Police said they were 'devastated' by his death.
The couple left a tribute on his Facebook website saying: 'Darling Matthew. We love you so much and miss you.

'You were a truly good, sensitive person. Your smile will live on in our hearts.'
Chiraag Suchak, who was in the student's class at Combs Middle School in Stowmarket, said they used to play on a PlayStation games console every weekend.
'He is someone that would never, ever provoke anyone, so I have no idea who would do this,' he said.
Ian Crissell, the school's head teacher, described him as a conscientious pupil who had been liked by all the members of staff.

'It is no surprise he went on to further education. He had worked hard in order to get himself into that situation,' he said.

A police spokesman yesterday said a number of lines of inquiry were being pursued including 'computer-based inquiries'.

Detective Chief Inspector Tony Heydon, of Nottinghamshire Police, asked any member of public who had seen a 'bladed weapon, possibly blood-stained', to come forward.

He also said he wanted to hear from anyone who saw someone in the area wearing bloodstained clothes - although it is possible the killer would have had to change after the frenzied attack and may have dumped what they were wearing.

Mr Heydon added: 'Matthew was a young man with his whole life ahead of him and we are doing everything we can to catch the person responsible for his murder.'