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Monday, May 30, 2005

The Internet is a public space

Free our stupid classmate

Message Is Clear in N.Va.: IM 'Threats' Can Bring Teens Trouble in an Instant

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 29, 2005; Page A01

The pranks teenagers play on each other are almost rites of passage -- making crank phone calls, scrawling scary messages on lockers and toilet-papering a friend's yard are usually seen as harmless adolescent mischief and come with few repercussions.

But in the past two weeks, two students in Arlington have been arrested -- and were still being detained this weekend -- after their apparent pranks were taken more seriously. Both involved instant messages, or IMs, the on-screen form of real-time computer communication that takes up hours of American teenagers' lives each day and that allows them something a crank call doesn't always: anonymity.

On May 18, a 15-year-old Yorktown High School boy sent an anonymous IM to a friend, threatening to harm her and others at school. She told her parents that night, and police evacuated Yorktown the next day, swarming the school before the boy turned himself in. He is being held without bond at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Home in Alexandria on a felony charge of making a written threat to kill.

A few days later, on May 24, Washington-Lee High School was locked down for the afternoon after three students reported receiving similar threats via IM. On Thursday, police arrested a 13-year-old Swanson Middle School student, a brother of one of the recipients, and charged him with the same felony count and harassment by computer, a misdemeanor. He is being held without bond until a second arraignment scheduled for Tuesday.

The arrests have exposed a new gray area for teenagers. They live in an age when it is delectably easy to use an anonymous screen name to freak out their friends -- and in a society that has learned the hard way to take threats of violence seriously.

Parents need to explain to kids that the internet is a public space. Anything you say online can come back to haunt you. Even jokes.

And while this may seem excessive, what happens when you ignore this and you have a sea of bodies the next day. It's not an easy choice. But I'm also convinced the kids had no idea it would be taken this seriously.

posted by Steve @ 12:54:00 AM

12:54:00 AM

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