July 30, 2012 at 5:05 PM ET
Two girls, ages 12 and 13, were arrested on a felony charge after creating a fakeFacebook page impersonating a 12-year-old classmate. They used the page to send threatening messages.
The girls, students at a middle school in Granbury, Tex., were detained onJuly 16, and charged with online impersonation, a third-degree felony.
“The juveniles wereusing the fake Facebook page to make threats towards other students andcultivated a bad reputation for the victim,” according to a Hood County Sheriff’s Department statement, which continues, saying that the girls “caus[ed] the victim to endurethreats from other students” and be “rejected by her peers.”
Accordingto Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds, who spoke to local media in the week following the arrest, this marks the first arrest in the area related to the onlineimpersonation law, enacted by Texas in 2009.
“This is similar inevery way to identity theft,” Deeds said on local access show Granbury TV. “Normally on an identity theft case,” the thief will take an identity and “useit for financial gain,” Hood said. “This was just to try and get back at aperson, and ruin them socially, so it’s a big deal.”
The victim’s parents reported the fake Facebook profile to the sheriff’soffice on June 28, when the suspects’ identities were still unknown. In thefollowing investigation, the sheriff learned that the “victim was friends with the suspects,” and “wouldlike to forgive and forget.”
The victim’s mother seemsless forgiving, telling the Hood County News that her daughter, 11 at the timethe profile was first posted, was confronted in school by friends who had received threatening messages on Facebook, purportedly sent from the victim herself. The confrontations almost resulted in a“physical altercation.”
As the sheriff's statement states, “The parents of the victim had to endure watching their child suffer the pain that cyber bullying causes.”
Since Texas law shields juvenile court records, the exact nature of the Facebook page and messages sent are unknown. It’s not clear whether the girls have been released from the juvenile detention center.
On July 28, the Hood County News reported that the girls were still being detained at the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center, 12 days after the arrest. Reporter Mark Wilson cited “officials,” but we have been unable to confirm this at press time.
“We can’t turn loose on it,” County Attorney Kelton Conner told NBC News when we inquired about the case, and the status of the girls. Citing Texas laws that protect juvenile's identities, Conner said, “We're holding a meeting [Tuesday] morning and we'll get some direction on what information we can release, but we can't do anything without a judge.”
Chris Hansen, staff attorneywith the American Civil Liberties Union, notes an increase in minors punished,both by school and the police, because of social-media behavior.
“Everytime a new form of communication emerges, there’s hysteria from people who don’tunderstand it,” he said. “One example is kids getting suspended or arrested forsaying derogatory statements about fellow students online. If it’s not illegaloffline, it’s not illegal online."
In May, two junior high school students in New Haven, Connecticut were arrested and expelled for posting separate violent threats on Twitter. That same month, a student came under police investigation after he was suspended from Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota for allegedly serving another student a cupcake laced with semen. A month prior, three girls in Indiana were suspended for joking on Facebook about classmates they'd like to kill, in a free speech case the ACLU is currently championing.
While the ACLU is notinvolved with the Hood County arrests, “this is the criminalization of children’sbehavior,” Hansen told NBC News. Hansen said such arrests are part of apattern. “Increasingly, this is the case, if you misbehave at school, you getarrested. You don’t get suspension. We call it the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Hansen noted that the agesof the girls arrested, 12 and 13, “is striking, adding that “there’s a lot ofdiscussion in the Supreme Court whether it’s proper to treat kids as adults,and this seems to me to be an example of this problem.”
Update July 31: Hood County Attorney Kelton Conner told NBC News that the girls are no longer in custody, but said he could not share when the girls were released and whether there's been a hearing.