The Internet often is referred to as a "virtual" world - something in which reality isn't quite real. But it proved to be very much so for two people whose names were in the news last week.
A jury in Los Angeles convicted Lori Drew, the woman accused of using the Internet to inflict extreme emotional stress on a teenager, of a few relatively minor charges in connection with her misbehavior. For weeks in 2006, Drew, her daughter and another teenager allegedly used the World Wide Web to post messages harassing 13-year-old Megan Meier.
On Oct. 16, 2006, Meier received a message on her computer, telling her that the world would be better off without her. She went to the closet in her room and hanged herself.
Also in the headlines last week was the story of a troubled 19-year-old, Abraham Biggs Jr. of Miami. One day last week, Biggs used a Web site for bodybuilders to declare that he intended to commit suicide.
He linked a webcam in his bedroom to another site, allowing those connected to it to watch him kill himself. He took an overdose of pills, stretched out on his bed and, after a few hours, died.
According to the authorities, a few of those who watched Biggs finally contacted police. By the time they arrived at his home, he was dead.
Most of those who saw his webcast thought Biggs was faking the suicide.
Too many Internet users - especially the young - seem to view the Web as disconnected somehow from reality. In some ways, it is no more than "virtual" - but when misused, it can become a terrible reflection of reality.
Many parents understand how important it is to educate their children regarding the Internet. Those who do not -who assume that nothing really bad can happen on a computer monitor - are wrong. We urge them to help their children understand how blurred the boundary between "virtual" and reality can become.