When you sign in to Facebook to check your dozens of new notifications and make weekend plans, getting into a ruthless message war with your best friend is probably the last thing on your mind. But as many have discovered, one misstep online can have serious consequences in real life.
For some, Facebook has even become an outlet for fights. And what they have learned the hard way is that when they shut down their computers, the hurt feelings and vengeful thoughts don’t simply cease.
Last month, The New York Times reported on a heated argument that began over Facebook and ended in the stabbing and death of 22-year-old John Jay College graduate Kamisha Richards.
Richards became enraged when she discovered that the $20 she lent her friend Kayla Henriques to buy diapers and formula for her young son was used for some other purpose. She displayed her anger over the situation publicly in a Facebook post on Henriques’ wall.
Henriques quickly fired back and the war of words escalated into violence just one day after the last message was posted. When Richards confronted her about the loan, Henriques reportedly stabbed her in the heart.
While this tragic tale represents an extreme situation, many students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) have found that some of their interactions over Facebook have been far from positive. And most are beginning to realize that what they say and do over Facebook can carry hefty consequences when they’re not sitting safely behind their computer screens.
When Lauren Duzyk, FCLC ’12, groggily rolled out of bed one morning last semester, she grabbed a cold slice of leftover pizza from the fridge before heading over to the couch to Facebook message her best friends from high school.
But when she tried to log in to her account, she was met with an incorrect password message. She tried entering her password again, only to be directed to the same daunting message.
Seconds later, she opened a new window on her computer screen and made attempts to log in to her email accounts, YouTube, and Netflix, but they were all unsuccessful. Frantic, she checked her documents folder for the day’s assignments she had stayed up late the night before to complete. They were all gone.
Duzyk realized then that something was terribly wrong. She had no idea then that a Facebook post had angered her roommate so much that she hired a hacker to eliminate hundreds of files from her computer and change the passwords to her most frequented accounts.
Duzyk said it began when her roommate started dating one of her closest friends.
“They seemed great together at first,” Duzyk said. “But that quickly went downhill. She cheated on him for two months, throughout which she demanded I keep it a secret.”
But she didn’t keep it a secret for long. One night at a party, Duzyk had had enough. She snapped a photo of her roommate with the other guy and posted it on Facebook. It cost her a year’s worth of files and several of her online accounts.
Duzyk fired back. Two months of nasty notes and burning glares later, her roommate moved out, their friendship irreparable.
Far from being an isolated incident, other FCLC students have had similar experiences over the wildly popular social networking tool that Facebook has become.
Ellen Goldberg, FCLC ’13, nearly lost one of her best friends over a heated argument that stemmed from a Facebook chat.
“We both said awful things we would have never even thought about saying in real life,” Goldberg said. “But over Facebook, we couldn’t see the effects our words were having on each other. Somehow, it didn’t seem as serious.”
Only, it was. After avoiding each other for days, the two finally talked about their disagreement… in person.
“We started crying,” Goldberg said. “I couldn’t believe I nearly lost such an amazing friend all because of a Facebook fight.”
Razel Tolentino-Requesto, FCLC ’14, shared a similar experience when a minor argument that started on Facebook quickly grew into a much more serious battle of words.
“It began as an argument over my friend’s smoking habits,” Tolentino-Requesto said. “But it turned into a fight in which we both said a lot of unspeakable things and demeaned each other’s character.”
The harsh words didn’t end over Facebook. When the pair saw each other the next day, they hashed it out in person.
“Luckily, we eventually realized how stupid the entire thing was,” she said. “This would have never started in real life, but online, there was no mediation.”
Even if a fight didn’t necessarily involve them personally, some students didn’t hesitate to defend a family member or friend when words grew heated over Facebook.
Ashley Somo, FCLC ’13, found herself in the middle of a fight involving a friend and her ex-roommate.
“My good friend’s ex-roommate posted some slanderous statuses about her and tagged her in them to make sure her friends and family would see them,” Somo said.
Somo immediately acted to defend her friend. A dozen Facebook messages later, the ex-roommate ceased all contact with them both.
Jordan Hunter, FCLC ’12, said she couldn’t just sit back and watch as her cousin was harassed over Facebook.
“This awful guy simply would not leave my cousin alone,” Hunter said. “He was criticizing her political beliefs and making extremely ignorant, racist comments.”
Enraged, Hunter sent him a Facebook message demanding that he immediately stop all contact with her cousin.
“He stopped bothering her, but then he began threatening me,” she said. “I was scared. I was looking over my shoulder for a while after that.”
Though many students involved in Facebook fights have played active roles, a few found themselves the target for bullies.
Dorie Goehring, FCLC ’13, was bullied over Facebook chat by a former friend who was angry that she had stopped speaking to him online.
“He said some really disturbing things, which was why I didn’t go online as much after that, and he ended up actually threatening me,” Goehring said.
Terrified, Goehring blocked his profile, but couldn’t manage to get the threatening words out of her head.
“I was kind of a wreck for a while after,” she said. “I was really scared that he was going to show up at my house. It was a very stressful time for me.”
Even those lucky students, who have never found themselves sending late-night battle messages over Facebook or blocking the accounts of former friends, have noticed a spike in Facebook drama.
“I’ve heard of a lot of people making fake accounts to harass people, but I make sure I don’t add anyone unless I know them,” Jennifer Lane, FCLC ’12, said. “I’ve also noticed some passive-aggressive Facebook statuses that never name names or anything, but none of that has ever been directed toward me.”
Nevertheless, some students believe there is a simple way for everyone to keep their time on Facebook fight-free.
“If you think something could potentially start an issue, don’t post it,” Kevin Quaratino, FCLC ’13, said.
So if you’re going to post that snarky comment on your frenemy’s latest profile picture, know that your words won’t just stay on Facebook and it might just cost you.