Dangers still lurk online

Published 5:09 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2007

By Staff
A woman in Tacoma lost just about everything she owned when a fake Craigslist ad on the Internet invited people to take whatever they wanted from her home - even the light fixtures.
Turns out the woman's niece had posted the ad in some sort of family feud, and she pleaded guilty last month to the crime.
Another Washington woman was solicited by men she'd never met after a fake Craigslist ad offered certain services she could provide. Police in her town believe a crime was committed and are investigating the offense.
But while what happened to those women is criminal, those acts still pale in comparison to the plight of a St. Louis couple mourning their daughter, who committed suicide after she received taunting messages on her Myspace page.
Thirteen-year-old Megan was already fragile, having battled depression and a lack of self-esteem. Her closest friends - and their parents - knew of her personal and private pain.
Young girls have taunted each other for years - it's one of those terrible rites of teenage passage that survives decade after decade. Online sites like Myspace and Facebook just give them a chance to make the leap to technology.
But Megan's parents found out that it was the mother of one of their daughter's friends who had started the taunting in the first place, even creating an online teenage boy persona to compliment Megan and gain her trust before turning on her with vicious lies.
The mother knew Megan was a 13-year-old girl with problems, and she opened the door to her destruction anyway, even allowing other teens to post messages on the fake Myspace page.
Police say no crime has been committed, so they can't take the case any further.
A police report states that the mother who created the account “didn't feel as guilty” about Megan's death because she believed she had tried to commit suicide before.
Many parents monitor their children's online behavior - but what kind of world are we living in when a parent meddles in another girl's life like this?
Perhaps no crime has been committed, at least not one our legal system can prosecute. But the kind of chipping away of our moral core that happens when a mother who never grew up herself can taunt a teenager into suicide is beyond disturbing.
It isn't the fault of online sites like Myspace and Craigslist and Facebook, but those tools - while they are sometimes a great means of communication - make it a lot easier to try to hide our sins.
If this can happen in suburban St. Louis, can it happen in Brewton or East Brewton? Most likely.
Brewton City Schools have started a unique online program that allows students to send anonymous messages when they are being bullied or when they have thoughts of suicide. County schools are likely to follow suit with the “Talk About It” program.
That's a proactive step that can help lessen the impact that words have on teenagers - and one that makes the best use of online technology.
Parents need to continue to be vigilant about their children's use of the Internet. Keeping them away from it isn't necessarily an option - but shielding them from misuse and helping build their self-esteem for the inevitable taunting that comes with teenage years is an important step toward keeping them safe.
Kerry Whipple Bean is publisher of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached at 867-4876 or by e-mail at kerry.bean@brewtonstandard.com.