What happens when an online spat leads to an offline encounter? In the case of two teenagers from Canada, some very scary behavior.
In Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, two sixteen years girls were threatening each other on Facebook. Profanity filled messages were passed between inboxes. Some of the insults were probably written in all caps. Punctuation most likely wasn’t a major concern. Sounds pretty normal – if a little aggressive- for the contemporary social media active teenager, right? It might have been had the interaction remained online. However, the end result was one girl in the hospital with a stab wound to the chest, and another in court.
On Tuesday July 26th Madame Justice Esther Rosenberg of the Ontario Youth Court oversaw a lengthy sentencing hearing regarding the case. The judge has postponed a final decision until august 15th , and the offender’s identity is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, there is still enough information to piece together a story.
Late February 27th and early February 28th, the two parties were engaged in a heated Facebook exchange. While the exact details of the exchange are not known, the topic must have been important. Or, at the very least, emotional. The accused sent a final threat to the victim, saying she was going to continue the exchange in person. Unfortunately, the threat wasn’t empty. During the hearing, the court heard evidence that the two teenagers had a history. Presumably, the history was, at best, unfriendly.
At 1 am, the accused arrived at the victim’s house on Milroy Drive. Being in Canada in the dead of winter, she was surrounded by snow banks, and the accused began throwing snowballs at the victim’s door. When the victim opened the door, a physical fight ensued.
The accused used a kitchen knife to slash the victim in the forehead. This was followed by a stab to the chest which punctured the victim’s lungs. Paramedics arrived to find the victim with a hole in her chest; she was taken to Peterborough Regional Health Care Centre and subsequently transferred to St Michael’s in Toronto Ontario.
For her part, the accused tossed the knife in a snow bank, walked home and went to her computer. She signed onto Facebook and wrote:
“Let that be a f—— warning to you [...]Try s— again and I’ll f— you up even more.”
While the accused apparently showed little emotion in court on Tuesday, she has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and apologized to her victim, saying “I am truly sorry for what I have done [...] It’s not acceptable”
It really isn’t. While youth violence is always disturbing, this case is more upsetting than some because of social media. This is true not because the case offers proof that social media is a trap for youth. In fact, most research suggests social media has positive effects on youth. Instead, this case highlights a more specific issue raised by social media and violence: the pre-meditation required to transfer an online conversation into an offline action.
In this case, the accused had to get up from her computer, put on her boots, walk out the door and down the street, and make a snowball. One presumes this sequence of events was enough time to consider the potential consequences of her actions. It is difficult to argue this was a “heat of the moment” reaction. This is one of the less explored facets of social media for youth; reactions to online comments that are followed up by offline behaviors have a higher degree of pre-meditation and planning. While this case is extreme, if you are a parent or educator it may also be exemplary. When teaching social media skills, don’t forget to emphasize the difference between online threats and real life actions. While most youth probably won’t attack their enemies with knives, it is possible that some won’t understand the stark difference between online and offline spaces and how to navigate between them.