We need to talk about Facebook’s very problematic “Teen Dating and Flirting” group
The phrase sounds harmless enough, right? What’s so terrible about a little flirting?
Sadly in the age of rampant cyberbullying, a public forum like this can be, and is, used to deeply hurt others. A Facebook page named “Teen Dating and Flirting” has sparked an outrage after it was revealed that a teen murder victim had been bullied on the site just weeks before she disappeared.
Throw strangers and sexting in the mix, and you have what the Washington Post calls the “full teen trifecta.” It all goes down in a public forum without moderation.
The page was shut down on Tuesday for a heartbreaking reason: On January 1, 2016, 13-year-old Nicole Lovell posted a selfie with the caption “cute or nah,” garnering a string of negative comments. A few weeks later, she went missing. The Facebook page may have played a role in the meeting of Lovell and her alleged killer, according to reports. The two also are said to have communicated via Kik Messenger.
This kind of activity—posting selfies for likes and comments—was pretty standard activity for the page: Teens would post pictures of themselves, and other teens (or adults masquerading as them) would comment with attempts to connect one-on-one, like “Send nudes” or straight-up mean things like “Ew.”
Cringeworthy, right? Advocacy groups like Help Save The Next Girl and Justice for Children Without Voices led the charge to have the “Teen Dating and Flirting” page taken down. But similar ones still exist.
“The teen dating sites on FB needs to be removed,” Help Save The Next Girl posted on Facebook on January 31. “Please help us locate and pressure Facebook to remove. The photos are much too graphic to post on here.”
Why is it taking a tragedy to finally get Facebook to shut these pages down? Facebook says it’s not that simple: Unless posts are flagged, Facebook might never know they exist. The social media site relies on its users to identify activity that violates its community standards. If none of those teens report anything, Facebook remains unaware of cyberbullying.
After the tragic loss of Lovell, there is no better time to make this clear: It is the responsibility of sites like Facebook to make sure that they are providing a safe forum for young people.