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A Cleveland Teen is Murdered After a Facebook Argument – aka Internet Safety Basics: DON’T Feed the Trolls

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Cyberbullying - Internet Safety for Families - online courseHave you heard the term: “Don’t feed the trolls”? Trolls are online bullies who generally show themselves in the comments section of a website or blog. But they can just as easily be found within your own social media profiles.  In fact, younger users of social media may have a large percentage of trolls within their own “friends” and “followers”.

In a Cleveland, Ohio suburb a mother is mourning the loss of her teenage son. He was stabbed to death right outside his home after a feud over a girl which the mother says escalated via Facebook. The suspected murderer made specific threats on Facebook that he was “coming to get” the young man.

If what this mother says turns out to be true, then this is a case which involves cyberbullying. The interesting aspect is the chosen platform – Facebook. Facebook’s connection structure is synchronous. This means that in order for you and I to be “friends” on Facebook we have to agree. You send me a “friend request” and I agree. If we do not agree, there is no connection.

Very often I’m asked what parents should do when cyberbullying arrives in their lives. Using this heartbreaking situation as an example:

  1. Your children should only ‘friend’ those people who mom/dad know IRL (in real life) 
    If YOU do not know the “friend”, remove the connection
  2. Explain to your children the risks of TMI (too much information) 
    You give potential trolls ammunition to use against you (examples: problems at home, issues with school, illnesses, family deaths, personally identifying data, etc)
  3. If the cyberbullying is obvious and targeted – DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS
    Tell your children to NOT answer back when threats are made – they should tell an adult and step away
  4. BLOCK the cyberbully from your profile if possible
    Some social media platforms do not make “blocking possible” -but Facebook does
  5. Your child should take a break from social media for a significant amount of time – a week or two
  6. Report threats to local police and the school where appropriate

I have no idea if these tips would have helped this child, and I don’t know this family personally. All I know is that a child is dead and another one will likely spend a very, very long time in jail (which is appropriate). This tragedy might very well have occurred anyhow outside of the realm of social. In this particular case Facebook seems to have been a vehicle for communication of a threat and a continued festering of anger and cyberbullying.

Parents: have these conversations with your children so that they will recognize a threat when they see it or hear it.