Teens inviting trouble through social networking sites

Maureen Boyle

The message posted on Facebook was simple.

“RAGER. call or message.”

Within an hour, carloads of teens and young adults who got the message on cell phones showed up to party at an East Bridgewater, Mass., house where, by night’s end, an estimated $45,000 in damage was caused.

That “rager” – where a large number of teens message all their friends to drink – highlights how young adults who are using social networking sites to instantly communicate to dozens – if not hundreds of people – can draw mobs to a scene with ease.

And authorities say they are just starting to see the problems that can cause locally and nationally.

Earlier this month, Raynham, Mass., police intercepted gangs of rival high school students planning to fight behind a rifle club in town after Facebook postings announcing the fight.

“We stopped them before they met up,” said officer Louis F. Pacheco, Raynham’s school resource officer. “We were able to nip it in the bud.”

In Philadelphia, “flash mobs” – where people linked through social-networking websites and text messaging gather at a site – had been converging on the city’s downtown, fighting, assaulting people and vandalizing property.

“It is a big problem, and it is going to be an even bigger problem,” said Toby M. Finnie, executive director of the High Tech Crime Consortium.

That’s because more people are going online with their cell phones or other mobile devices and a large number of those people are teens.

Cell phone ownership is nearly ubiquitous among teens and young adults, and much of the growth in teen cell-phone ownership has been driven by the youngest teens.

Studies by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that:

- 73 percent of online teens use social network sites.

- 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds accessed the Internet wirelessly on a cell phone.

- The number of teens with cell phones – particularly younger teens – is also up. The study found 58 percent of 12- year-olds now own a cell phone, up from 18 percent in 2004.

Teens can also access Facebook wirelessly through some gaming devices and the iPod Touch.

“The whole communication method has changed,” East Bridgewater Detective Mike Jenkins said. “These kids are using mobile applications to communicate.”

Cell phones also have a wide range of online applications. “They’re not just phones anymore,” Jenkins said.

East Bridgewater Police Chief John E. Cowan said quick messaging to lots of people can lead to trouble if teens decide to host parties without adult supervision.

“It gets the message out instantaneously. When I was in high school, standing up in the lunchroom and saying there was a party was the mode of communication,” he said.

Now, teens can broadcast the information online – to hundreds of people.

Raynham Police Chief Louis J. Pacheco said that’s when things can get out of hand.

“The word goes out instantly. You can go from one kid to 50 in 15 minutes,” Pacheco said.

Whitman, Mass., Police Chief Christine May-Stafford said she also worries small disagreements aired on a social networking site could worsen – especially with younger schoolchildren.

“If they have a problem with another student, they say things on Facebook, on the Internet, that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face,” she said. “That escalates what could be a minor disagreement into something bigger.”

Enterprise writer Maureen Boyle can be reached at