On March 30 a bunch of girls in Florida invited Victoria Lindsay over to their house after an online conflict on Myspace got out of hand. Instead of talking things over they decide to beat the 16 year old girl up and film the whole experience with their phones and digital cameras. Victoria passes out during the fight, gets up and gets shouted at and beaten some more. After she escapes she is treated for a concussion at the hospital and has severe bruises all over her body.
The parents of Victoria talked to reporters on Monday about the whole experience. Being a father of two daughters myself and having watched the video of the fight I relate to them as parents. But unfortunately the focus of the story starts to shift from the 8 girls (now arrested) to the websites that these teenagers are using. Apparently Victoria had a profile on MySpace which got ‘hacked’ and the parents, and probably some of the viewers, seem to think that The Internet is the cause of all evil.
Understandably the parents look for someone to blame. And in this case that should be easy. 8 girls beat their daughter up and have several videos to proof it. But Victoria’s father repeatedly mentions online services as the real cause of this tragedy. He goes as far as calling MySpace “the anti-christ for children”.
I remember getting beat up (not as bad as Victoria though) as a kid over marbles and toys. But nobody ever needed to blame the stuff we fought over or the tools* we used to organize these fights. (* = We passed pieces of paper to each other in class. Not very high tech but it worked.)
One thing is clear though. Social networks are becoming an integrated part of society and as such have to come up with rules and regulations for these kinds of cases. How do you deal with teenagers (or any people) using your service to start a fight? Do social networks have a responsibility towards their users to keep them out of trouble? Can a social network claim the same position as ISPs when it comes to data traveling over their networks or services?
Some social networks are pro-active in their approach to these kinds of situations. I know of one example where a social network works closely with authorities when it comes to soldiers killed in action. The families of the soldiers are uncomfortable with online profiles of partying teenagers and would rather circulate an official portrait. Some social networks are giving in to requests to delete these profiles and the photos on them.
The question remains how far these social networks have to go in taking responsibility. If someone dies in a car accident, will they also take off the profiles? How about if someone is just very ill? Or not really ill but just a bad hair day? Where will they draw the line? They will have to decide what they think is their responsibility and what is not without making themselves vulnerable to the accusations that some people may throw at them.
Video Interview with Talisa Lindsay and Patrick Lindsay (quote at 4:15):