I haven't waded into meta issues much in my near-decade as a Kossack. But something happened earlier this week that compels me to do so.
As many of you know, on Monday the ringleaders of the yearlong bullying campaign against 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick were arrested for their role in driving the Lakeland, Florida teenager to commit suicide. The two girls, 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw and 12-year-old Katelyn Roman, stand charged with felony stalking for sending a blizzard of hateful text messages and IMs to Rebecca, as well as physically attacking her. Following their first appearance on Tuesday, Shaw was remanded to custody while Roman was released on home detention.
When I mentioned the arrests on Tuesday, several commenters claimed that even though Shaw and Roman's names were released by law enforcement and have been made public in several media outlets, we shouldn't mention their names in posts about them here. Well, excuse me, but I disagree.
Under normal circumstances, I believe that juveniles who have been brought up on charges should not be identified. But speaking as a journalist by training, if there is any circumstance that calls for an exception to that principle, it is a crime as depraved as this one. To my mind, Shaw and Roman lost any right they had to anonymity when Rebecca jumped to her death last month.
I agree wholeheartedly with Rebecca's mom, Tricia Norman, that these girls and the other 13 (at least) girls involved in this shameful episode need counseling and rehabilitation more than they need to be in a reformatory. At the same time, though, they need a serious reality check. Shaw proved that pretty loudly early Saturday morning, when she made what will likely go down as one of the most callous Facebook posts ever made--"Yes ik I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF." According to several experts interviewed by ABC News, that post is emblematic of a "cool to be cruel" culture which actually awards you for being callous to others in cyberspace. Well, they need to know that this sort of behavior does have consequences. And one of those consequences needs to be knowing that they will have to explain why they have a felony on their record.
I would also argue that releasing the names is necessary to deter others from engaging in this kind of behavior. Psychologist and bullying expert Elizabeth Englander told ABC that part of the "cool to be cruel" culture is that teens think nobody outside of their circle of friends will see them tormenting others online. Remember, Shaw and Roman kept this up for so long because they were able to do it anonymously, via Kik and Ask.fm. If these kids know that if they're caught, they'll lose that cover, they'll think twice about it in the future.