Teenager stabbed in out-of-control Facebook party

17-year-old Jay Whiston, who died on Saturday © Essex police

A 17-year-old has been murdered, after dozens of gatecrashers turned up to a house party organised on Facebook. Is the social network to blame for the tragedy?

When Laura Gathercole threw a party for her friends, she was hoping for a fun night. As the 15-year-old made the final preparations on Saturday, everything seemed well planned; neighbours had been warned about the noise, and the host’s parents had even stayed at home to supervise.

Hours later, things had gone badly wrong. As more teenagers arrived, the civilised gathering in an Essex suburb turned rowdy. A fight broke out, and a knife appeared. By ten thirty, 17-year-old Jay Whiston had died of stab wounds.

What happened? Jay, who was studying for his A-Levels at a local school, had intervened in a row over a mobile phone. But today, many are saying the tragedy has a deeper cause: gatecrashers had caught wind of the house party on Facebook – and turned up looking for trouble.

Although only 100 people were expected at the party, nearly double that – many of whom had never met the host – turned up. Most had been attracted by its Facebook event page, as well as by messages on Twitter. ‘Huge house party in Stanway, anyone’s allowed to go,’ one read.

This is not the first time the social network has sent an event spiralling out of control. In Germany, police had to be summoned when a man was assaulted at a ‘Facebook party’; two guests were also rushed to hospital after falling into a bonfire and downing a bottle of vodka.

Two years ago, one British teen was horrified when her party became an internet sensation – and 21,000 strangers promised to attend.

The event was called off, but a fear of raucous gatecrashers meant the 15-year-old had to spend her birthday at home under armed police guard.

Each of these hosts made a seemingly tiny error. When anyone creates a Facebook event, they can choose several different privacy settings. Some mean the event is only visible to those who are invited. But opt for a ‘public’ event, and anyone can see the page and join the party.

And in Germany, lawmakers want to make Facebook pay. Dealing with the injuries, arrests and aftermaths of chaotic parties can cost thousands: if Facebook has a hand in creating these disastrous gatherings, they say, it should foot the bill.

Facing the music

But can a social network really be blamed for such disasters? Not everyone thinks so. Facebook is just a platform after all; it is a medium that cannot decide what people do or say on its pages. Just how it is used can only be the responsibility of its members.

Other disagree. Facebook, they say, does encourage certain types of behaviour: without it, inviting thousands of people to a house party would be virtually impossible. When social networks offer ways to create events like this, they bear some responsibility for the consequences.

You Decide

  1. Is Facebook to blame for Jay Whiston’s murder?
  2. Has Facebook had a positive effect on the way people interact with each other?

Activities

  1. Draw up a code of conduct for using Facebook safely.
  2. Imagine you are a top executive at Facebook, and have been asked to respond to this weekend’s tragedy. Write a statement on the site’s alleged implication in the murder.

Some People Say...

“Teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to use Facebook.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How do I avoid this happening to me?
If you create an event, on Facebook, you need to be careful that you’ve selected the right privacy setting. A ‘public’ event is visible to everyone. And even if you select ‘friends’ as a setting, that doesn’t mean your party will only be visible to the people you know: Facebook friends of anyone who is invited to the party could be able to look at, and attend, the event. If you want to control who can see the page, select invite only. And don’t publish your personal contact details and address online!
Surely this happened before Facebook, though?
Out-of-control parties happened before the internet, of course – but generally speaking, fewer people are able to hear about gatherings when they are only communicated through word-of-mouth.

Word Watch

Became an internet sensation
Occasionally, seemingly unremarkable events have been hijacked by bloggers and hoaxers who encourage hundreds of people to join the party online. In 2010, one blogger created a small Facebook event called ‘Kate’s Party’ – and encouraged his Twitter followers to click ‘attend’. By the time Facebook had shut down the event, over 120,000 people had been invited, and hundreds of tribute groups appeared.
Medium
The word ‘medium’ is used to refer to things like print, television or the internet, which are used to distribute information and ideas. The word originally means ‘intermediate state’ – a middle ground that conducts content from one place to the next.
Social networks
Facebook is the largest social network in the world – with over 800 million users, it has easily overtaken its competitors. Now, most other successful networks serve a different purpose to Facebook: Twitter, for example, is a microblogging platform for disseminating information, and sites like FourSquare connect people with recommendations for things to do and see.

Subjects

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