By now, you've probably heard the story of Jessi Slaughter, the 11-year-old girl whose online interactions went terribly, terribly awry in a very public way. The girl (Slaughter is a screen name) became the center of an online frenzy that led to a police investigation and an appearance on Good Morning America this week.
A video of her crying and saying, "you guys have ruined my life" included an angry rant by her father -- and it quickly grew out of control as the mainstream media picked up the story and made it headline news. And once it was, things got even more out of hand, with critics creating "mash-ups" and her family being publicly slammed.
It's a heartbreaking, nightmare scenario that nobody wanted. And yet it's also a complicated situation in which everyone had a role. While people have focused on who deserves the blame, we think the real take-away for families is to see this as a massive -- and horrid -- teachable moment about the potential consequences of irresponsible online behavior.
The Internet is a powerful tool, and it can be used to create or destroy. What takes place online takes place publicly. Even with privacy settings, kids can lose control over what they say and post. And as the Jessi Slaughter story shows, the viral nature of the Internet means that when things go, they go big -- and they can stick around for a long time.
None of us wants our families to be the unintended stars of an online reality freak show. And, realistically, most of us will avoid this nightmare scenario. But a lot of people can identify with posting something we wish we could take back. And we can certainly imagine a situation in which something we said came out just a bit meaner than we meant it to be. And that someone could have responded in anger, with their hurt feelings escalating and the response crossing the line into bullying.
So, why not take the opportunity to talk to your kids about how public their lives can be? Remind them that it's up to them to protect themselves. Get more tips on how to stay safe and responsible online behavior.