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Social Media's Role in Crime

Conflicts stemming from social media are “a huge issue” and an emerging area of concern for school officials and law enforcement.

by Taft Coghill Jr., The Free Lance-Star / April 6, 2015
(TNS) -- Filicia Pierce is still holding on to the cellphone of her son, Elijah “Buck” Ball IV.

Every now and then, the Bowling Green, Va., mother will hear the sound of Twitter notifications delivered to her late child’s phone and read some of the heartwarming messages that come through.

But Pierce is careful not to venture beyond the surface of what is being posted on social media.

She was alerted by Buck’s friends that the tweets about him and her family haven’t all been positive since the 16-year-old was gunned down on March 21 near the entrance of the Caroline Family YMCA in Ladysmith.

“It was shocking because I didn’t know people could be so cruel, especially after the way my son went,” Pierce said. “Some of his friends wanted us to know what was being said, so they screenshot it and forwarded it to my phone. I couldn’t even read it.”

Ahmad Goodall, 15, of Dawn is charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in connection with Buck’s death. Prosecutors plan to try him as an adult.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case, Goodall told police “that he did not like” Buck, and the investigation revealed that when Buck fell to the ground after being struck by gunfire, “Goodall approached the victim as he laid on the ground, shot him again then ran from the scene.”

A former Caroline County deputy was in the area at the time of the shooting and detained Goodall at gunpoint after he and another teen ran out of the woods near the crime scene.

Hours after Buck was pronounced dead at Mary Washington Hospital, one Twitter post called for Goodall to be released and appeared to threaten anyone who spoke ill of him.

“Yall popping off but don’t nobody wanna go out like buck so best for yall to keep my brothers name out yall mouth,” the post read.

Another post read, “Who ever the [expletive] was invole with murdering my cousin in Caroline yo ass is dead you hear me.”

Caroline County Sheriff Tony Lippa confirmed his office is investigating possible online threats connected to Buck’s death.

“Anytime we get any information, whether it’s a threat like this or a bomb threat, we take it serious,” Lippa said. “It’s hard to see who’s sending what and where, but we do our security measures based on what we receive.”

Not every comment has been a physical threat, but Buck’s parents believe some have been mean-spirited and in poor taste.

The night of Buck’s death, one of Goodall’s Twitter followers wrote “Rest In Piss.”

Two days later, the same person mocked the outpouring of support for Buck. There was a #Bucksworld rally on Twitter by many of his classmates.

“Bruh not even on this earth but it’s his world?” the post said, followed by laughing emoticons. He also posted, “Might as well start making [Twitter username] teeshirts cuase he next” and “VA murder rate ready go up this summer I can feel it.”

Pierce said the T-shirt threat is familiar because Buck was told on Twitter in February that “your people are going to be wearing your face on a T-shirt R.I.P. Buck.”

Buck and that individual had an online exchange on Feb. 24. Buck was asked “why they call you gwuap when you have no money or clout.”

Buck’s response was to “Stop talkin on Twitter.” He was then called “butt” (slang for “weak”) and the comment was favorited by Goodall.

Kenneth Trump, the president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, said this type of behavior online isn’t uncommon among teenagers.

Trump’s organization recently conducted a study of more than 800 school-related threats and 37 percent of those originated online, he said. Trump said conflicts stemming from social media are “a huge issue” and an emerging area of concern for school officials and law enforcement.

“What happens is in days past, or before social media, rumors and misinformation and threats would take hours and days to spread around,” Trump said. “Today it’s happening in minutes and seconds.”

Barney Reiley, the executive director of the Rappahannock Area YMCA, has also recognized social media conflicts as an issue. He plans to connect with Lippa to establish after-school outreach programs at the Caroline YMCA that would address the problem.

Reiley said the goal is to help youth better understand the downside of social media and how it escalates a conflict that otherwise could’ve been resolved.

“Back in the day, if you had a run-in with someone, you had the weekend to let things cool down and cooler heads prevailed,” Reiley said.

Trump said the larger audience that social media provides also encourages attention seekers to make derogatory or hateful comments. He said they’re able to create a larger persona online, which enables them to feel more intimidating than they are in real life.

“It’s a lot easier to threaten and harass and degrade people when you’re hiding behind the smartphone or the laptop than it is in person,” Trump said. “You’re also doing so in front of hundreds of thousands of other people rather than just a small group of half a dozen that may hear you say something out on the streets or in the school hallway.”

Caroline High School junior Christopher Jackson said the issues don’t always remain in cyberspace. He said fights that begin on social media are a major problem at school.

“You can come to school on a Monday and everyone is friends,” Jackson said. “But you go on social media [Monday night] and someone says something you don’t like, you come to school that Tuesday and it’s a fight.”

Caroline sheriff’s Sgt. Mac Ellett said it is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online and what they are posting to social media.

Buck’s father, Elijah Ball III, said he attempted to keep track of his namesake when he joined Facebook.

“He defriended me because I guess I was too nosey,” Ball said. “But the Twitter thing, I knew nothing about.”

On March 16, five days before he was shot and killed, Buck posted on his Twitter page, “Don’t Twitter beef wid me just pull up.”

Goodall posted to his account the day before Buck was killed, “[N-word] don’t know what beef is.”

Buck’s parents acknowledge that their son made comments online, but they said he was often defending himself.

“He was a 16-year-old child,” Pierce said. “If he did put something out there on Twitter or Facebook, he didn’t deserve to get shot. He didn’t deserve to get murdered.”

©2015 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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