When Facebook turns fatal

On March 2, 26-year-old Hayley Jones changed her Facebook status from "married" to "single." Ten days later, the mother of four and longtime girlfriend of 31-year-old Brian Lewis, was dead.

Murdered in her UK home and found by her children, aged 3 to 10, Jones had been spending more time online as her relationship of 13 years unraveled.

"Hayley started to expand her social life and was spending a lot of time on internet sites, in particular Facebook," prosecutor Mark Evans told the court, according to the BBC.

Jones and her boyfriend referred to themselves as married, but the prosecutor argued that she had made it clear to the boyfriend that their relationship was over. Although she reportedly kept her Facebook activity private, Lewis told friends that he would not lose her to another man.

Court reports offer differing arguments about why the couple's relationship was ending. One rationale is that Lewis lost his job, placing financial strain on the family. The other is that Jones was spending too much time online.

"Lewis told police the only tension between him and Hayley was the use of the home computer," the prosecutor told the court.

Lewis allegedly stabbed Jones with a kitchen knife while she was sleeping. Lewis reportedly called police but fled before they arrived at the scene. In the interim, Lewis and Jones' children discovered their mother's body. Jones' was fatally wounded through three layers of clothing and two bags that covered her.

Lewis later turned himself into authorities but now denies that he killed his girlfriend.

While the trial continues and the life of a young mother is mourned, it is worth noting how violence within relationships seeps into all aspects of daily living. While abuse between partners often only occurs behind closed doors, it is common for work, friendships, family, church, and other parts of a victim's life to be brought in to play to attempt to justify the violence. In a 2.0 world, it was sadly only a matter of time before social network sites and status updates would be pulled in to rationalize horrific acts such as this one.

I wonder if and how we can protect people who are at risk for abuse -- or even murder -- by their partners while they are online. Although virtual friendships and support networks can greatly impact our health and well-being, I wonder if it is even possible to prevent abusers from infiltrating sites that make us feel like we are surrounded by friends.

This isn't the first time a Facebook status update has spurred a murder.
And as much as I hate to say it, I can't imagine it will be the last.

What do you think we can do to protect ourselves and our own social network tribe from being the victim of a crime like this?

Have you ever felt unsafe about publishing your relationship status online?




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