Facebook-Heartbreak

Blog: One Week, Two Big Facebook Stories

by Fiona Clancy, Associate Staff

 

On Monday, October 14, 2013, two girls, ages twelve and fourteen were arrested in Florida and charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony.[1]  The charges against the two suspects stem from their cyberbullying of Rebecca Sedwick, just twelve years old, who killed herself in September.[2]  Rebecca had been targeted by the two suspects over the course of ten months, with the suspects posting harassing online messages, among them that Rebecca should kill herself.[3]  Florida Sheriff Grady Judd said the tipping point for making the arrests on Monday was one of the suspects allegedly posted a callous message about Rebecca’s death on Facebook the Saturday before, which included her acknowledging she bullied Rebecca.[4]

 

“Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed herself but IDGAF [I don’t give a (expletive)]”[5]

 

On Wednesday, October 16, 2013, two days later, Facebook announced its new privacy policy for teens.[6]  Never before were teens able to make their Facebook posts, pictures, and videos publically visible to anyone and everyone.[7]  Facebook describes the policy change for teens as “a new option to share broadly,” claiming teens “want to be heard.”[8]  While the Facebook news release features one post about a teen publicizing a food drive, and another post about a teen running in a 10k charity run as examples of this new policy in action, one can easily imagine the dark side of this new power in the wake of Rebecca Sedwick’s torment and subsequent suicide.[9]

 

Cyberbullying among teens is a recognized problem in this country, and is its effects are serious.  A 2011 study found that 16% of high school students were electronically bullied in the past year, and that kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, have lower self-esteem, and have more health problems.[10]  Cyberbullying is especially troubling because kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior.[11]  Before Rebecca’s suicide, she had run away from home, been hospitalized for cutting herself, and had changed schools to escape the torment, but the bullying continued online.[12]

 

So why did Facebook decide to change its teen privacy policy?  Reports speculate that Facebook’s change is motivated by a desire to increase its bottom line.[13]  Marketing and advertising companies that work with Facebook are eager to reach impressionable young consumers and target their advertisements to them.[14]  Now that teen users will be able to post information publicly, marketers and advertisers will glean more information about those teens, which they will use to personalize advertisements directed specifically to them.[15]

 

On the legal front, some say the felony charges filed in Florida may mark a turning point in how U.S. law enforcement agencies handle the problem of cyberbullying and stalking, with national ramifications for the prosecution of such cases.[16]  Sheriff Judd said he hoped the arrests would have an impact on cyberbullying, and some say Judd’s tough stance electrifies the growing movement to intensify the battle against juvenile bullying, which has increased and intensified in the era of social media.[17]  Even before the arrests, Florida took the lead nationally in 2004 when it passed a major cyberbullying amendment to its criminal code, which spurred other states to follow suit.[18]

 

Time will tell how these two events, which intersected so poignantly last week, will continue to play out for teens in this country.




[1] Doug Stanglin and William A. Welch, Two Girls Arrested on Bullying Charges After Suicide, USA TODAY (Oct. 16, 2013, 8:11 AM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/15/florida-bullying-arrest-lakeland-suicide/2986079/.

[2] Id.

[3] Ralph Vartabedian, Charges Against Girls In Suicide May Have National Ramifications, Los Angeles Times (Oct. 18, 2013, 12:39 PM), http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-bully-laws-20131018,1903818,7760714.story?page=2.

[4] Stanglin and Welch, supra note 1.

[5] Stanglin and Welch, supra note 1.

[6] Teen’s Now Start With “Friends” Privacy for New Accounts; Adding the Option to Share Publicy, Facebook Newsroom (Oct. 16, 2013), http://newsroom.fb.com/News/737/Teens-Now-Start-With-Friends-Privacy-for-New-Accounts-Adding-the-Option-to-Share-Publicly.

[7] Vindu Goel, Facebook Eases Privacy Rules for Teenagers, New York Times (Oct. 17, 2013, 9:31 AM), http://finance.yahoo.com/news/facebook-eases-privacy-rules-teenagers-200705688.html.

[8] Teen’s Now Start With “Friends”, supra note 6

[9] Teen’s Now Start With “Friends”, supra note 6

[10] What is Cyberbullying?, stopbullying.gov (last visited Oct. 20, 2013, 11:30 PM), http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html.

[11] Id.

[12] Stanglin and Welch, supra note 1.

[13] Eric Rosenbaum, Facebook’s ‘Don Draper’ Wants to Pitch Teens, CNBC (Oct. 19, 2013, 7:00 AM), http://finance.yahoo.com/news/facebooks-don-draper-wants-pitch-110000811.html.

[14] Id.

[15] Goel, supra note 7.

[16] Vartabedian, supra note 3.

[17] Vartabedian, supra note 3.

[18] Vartabedian, supra note 3.

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