Dutch Tragedy: Don’t Call it ‘Facebook Murder’

by Larry Magid

The BBC is reporting that a 15 year old Dutch boy, identified as “Jinhua K” has been sentenced to a year in jail and 3 years of psychiatric evaluation after being convicted of killing a school girl “over a row that appears to have begun on Facebook.” Jinhau was 14 at the time of the murder.

Reportedly, there was a falling out over comments that the victim, Joyce “Winsie” Hau had made on the wall of a minor identified as “Polly W. The BBC said that Polly W and her boyfriend “gave Jinhua a note with the victim’s address and let him know when she would be home.”

Facebook not to blame

It’s no surprise that the comments that apparently infuriated Polly were made on Facebook because that’s where many teens congregate. But if they weren’t made on Facebook they would probably have been made elsewhere — on the phone, in email, in a chat room, on Twitter or — even more likely — in school or another physical location. If this murder had been the result of an angry phone exchange in the UK, I don’t think the media would be calling it a “British Telecom Murder.”

The report quotes experts as saying the Jinhua “was suffering from a severe behavioral disorder with psychopathic tendencies,” which is a far more logical description of cause then blaming it on the medium where it took place. Just as the movie theater where James Holmes opened fire on a crowd in July, isn’t to blame for that crime, neither is Facebook implicated in this killing.

It’s also important to put this case into perspective. Millions of teenagers around the world (the vast majority in many countries) use Facebook daily and there are very few reports of violent incidents or crimes. When they happen they make news — just like the killing at the movie theater — but just as you can go to movies your entire life and likely never encounter a serious crime, the same can be said for using Facebook.

What’s a parent to do?

Although I wasn’t quoted in the BBC article referenced in this post, I did speak with BBC World News television about the case and when asked what parents should do, my response was to talk with your kids and explain that this case is extremely rare but there can be consequences to one’s online behavior. It might be a good time to ask kids about arguments they’ve had on  Facebook and how they responded.

For more advice, see A Parents’ Guide to Facebook from ConnectSafely.org and Facebook’s Safety Center.

Listen to Larry’s comments on BBC World News (you can only hear his side, not that of the interviewer)

Disclosure: I’m co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other companies.

 

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