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Keller @ Large: Social Media Can Be Poison

BOSTON (CBS) – As disturbing crime stories go, the saga of Michelle Carter and the involuntary manslaughter charge against her in connection with her boyfriend’s suicide is about as bad as it gets.

Her text messages to Conrad Roy egging him on to take his life are horrendous, and whatever the outcome of her trial, there will be little sympathy for Carter.

But it would be a shame if this case comes and goes without sparking some serious public discussion of the dehumanizing impact of social media on teenagers in particular, and humanity in general.

For instance, did you realize that Carter and Roy only met face-to-face on a handful of occasions? Theirs was almost entirely an online relationship, and while this one was especially dysfunctional, there are aspects of it that sound all too familiar.

People will say vicious, cruel things online – in emails, texts, and tweets – that they would never say face-to-face. And half the time they don’t even mean what they’re saying. I’ve often had the experience of responding politely to a white-hot angry email denouncing me as Satan’s envoy, only to get an e-mail in response thanking me for responding and apologizing for the vitriol.

In the Carter trial, we’ve learned that she and Roy were troubled kids, struggling to sort out their human relationships. Social media doesn’t help kids like this – it too often ushers them into an unedited, unsupervised underworld of snark, bullying, harassment, and manipulation.

Parents, beware – that smartphone you give your kid is a potential hand grenade. And it doesn’t take much to pull the pin.

Talk back to me – politely please – via email at keller@wbztv.com, or you can reach out on Twitter, @kelleratlarge.

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