Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Online Predators, Trolling & the Law.

With the advent of online forums has come the concept of internet trolls. If you are reading this, you know what they are. In fact, anyone that has spent any amount of measurable time on an internet discussion board has experienced them first-hand.

The phenomena of trolling has been discussed, thoughtfully, both online and offline.


But what happens when sometimes comical behaviour on the intertubes becomes predatory and murderous offline?

Not much apparently.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was charged in April with two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly advising and encouraging two people to take their own lives. Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, hanged himself in 2005, and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.

Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to a judge, who issued his verdict Tuesday.

Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville once again rejected Melchert-Dinkel’s argument that his actions amounted to free speech. Melchert-Dinkel was not merely advocating ideas about suicide, Neuville said, but engaging in “lethal advocacy.” Neuville scheduled his sentencing for May 4.

If that wasn’t enough how lenient the sentence handed down was, apparently Melchert-Dinkel is appealing!

Which raises an interesting point, did Judge Neuville, or other judges (when most certainly other cases will come up) truly understand the internet, online trolling and when it crosses into criminal behaviour?

In an op-ed today in the Toronto Star, Heather Malick writes:

Melchert-Dinkel says he talked online with about 20 desperate people and entered fake suicide pacts with 10 of them. Five died at his urging, he claims, not including Kajouji and Drybrough, and we’ll never know their names.

The Internet was a gift to people like Melchert-Dinkel. So was the ignorance of Rice County district court judge Thomas Neuville. The nature of online communication – a new technology that has altered human relations forever – eluded the judge who lumped the case in with other assisted suicide cases, only six of which have been successfully prosecuted in the U.S. since 1991.

In fact, Melchert-Dinkel had found a fresh new way to murder, far beyond the ken of a 61-year-old rural judge. To understand this killer, the judge had to grasp the dark side of online anonymity, instant messaging and complete unfettered freedom, how words are like loaded guns appearing on a screen.

Either way, it certainly raises some serious legal and ethical questions about the role technology is playing in our lives.


  1. Which raises an interesting point, did Judge Neuville, or other judges (when most certainly other cases will come up) truly understand the internet, online trolling and when it crosses into criminal behaviour?

    Again, we get ahead of ourselves.

    Today 87% of Americans are aware of Twitter. 7% use it.

    Another way to say that is:

    Today 13% of Americans have never heard of Twitter, and 93% have never used it.

    There are way more people who have never used a blog, twitter or anything similar than those who have. Among those 7% who have ever used Twitter, we all know that most of them are not highly evolved in their understanding of the social subtleties of online community – to be generously kind about it.

    A judge over 50? Over 60?

    No. He has no idea what the Internet even is on the broadest definition, much less the details.  

  2. Rashaverak

    it is the prosecutor’s job to educate the judge or jury, so that the judge or jury can render an informed verdict.  The prosecutor should put witnesses on the stand who could testify as to what the internet is, what form of interactions take place over it, how those interactions affect people, etc.  The defense would have the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and to put its own witnesses on the stand (which the defense could cross-examine).

  3. Kysen

    seems like it was a long time ago, though.

    The way he was busted, was some woman in the UK started noticing odd things in a Suicide Help chatroom. She pretty much learned how to be a cyber-detective and thru her hard work and persistent ‘nagging’ of law enforcement they finally caught the guy.

    Wish I could find the article…was really quite interesting…hmmm…gonna wait to post this and hunt for a bit to see if I can find it…

    hmm….I believe this might be it

    Village sleuth unmasks US internet predator behind suicide ‘pacts’

    It really is an interesting story. If not for her persistence, the disgusting man would likely have continued his evil ways.

    While one year is indeed horrid…at least he was caught…and we can hope that somehow his having been exposed for the monster he is prevents him from doing it again.

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