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Sunday Mornings With Rania: The Michelle Carter Case

You know it – kids literally live their lives via technology. There isn’t a teen out there that isn’t stuck to a gadget – constantly surfing, tagging, liking or sharing, taking photos, commenting and texting. Their cyber world allows them to dosay and influence anything they want.

But because these powerful actions take place through such a small gadget, in what seems like such an enormous silo, it is almost impossible for these young minds to reconcile that their virtual actions have real-life consequences and that those consequences are significant, powerful, permanent and filled with legal liability.

That’s why Massachusetts teen Michelle Carter’s story is critical to understand. Carter, 17, was dating 18-year-old Conrad Roy. Through the course of their relationship, Roy expressed thoughts of suicide. Instead of seeking help, Carter, through a series of approximately 100 text messages, repeatedly encouraged and pressured Roy to kill himself, even sounding irritated when she would learn he hadn’t done it yet.

Here’s a small snippet of their texts:

7/12/14 12:40 AM Incoming From: Conrad Roy:  okayy

7/12/14 4:07 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy:   Conrad!

7/12/14 4:18 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy:  Hey you there?

7/12/14 4:19 AM Incoming From: Conrad Roy:  hey sorry I fell asleep

7/12/14 4:19 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy:  Its okay, Why haven’t you done it yet tho?

7/12/14 4:21 AM Incoming From: Conrad Roy: I’m too messed up to

7/12/14 4:21 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy:  What are you talking about

7/12/14 4:21 AM Incoming From: Conrad Roy: my head

7/12/14 4:22 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy: You can’t think about it You just have to do it? You said you were gonna do it like I don’t get why you arent

7/12/14 4:24 AM Incoming From: Conrad Roy: I don’t get it either. idk

7/12/14 4:25 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy: So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing

7/12/14 4:27 AM Outgoing To: Conrad Roy: I’m just confused like you were so ready and determined

See all their texts, including their horrific exchange around the time of Roy’s death, here.

Three years after Roy’s death, the landmark case was just concluded and Carter, who is now 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Conrad Roy. She will be sentenced Aug. 3, 2017 and could face up to 20 years in prison.

This was a difficult case to follow. For the sake of Roy and teens who are dealing with issues across our globe, please, let’s all take a moment to talk to our kids about the following:

  • Tell them about this case. Don’t hide it. Even if you are uncomfortable, if you have given your child a phone or allowed them to have any social media accounts, you owe it to them to share all the risks and dangers. Please, share the facts and talk through what Carter did wrong and what she should have done instead.
  • Remind teens that virtual actions have real-life consequences. Some of those consequences are legal and forever life altering. Carter was found by the court to be virtually present when Roy died. Facing up to 20 years in prison, her life will never be the same.
  • Know what to do when you don’t know how to respond. When you face a situation online you don’t know how to respond to, ask a trusted adult. Remember, anytime a person is expressing thoughts of suicide – no matter what stage they are in their conversation – alert, alert, alert someone you trust. Carter was not old enough, mature enough or wise enough to offer assistance to Roy. She should have talked to his parents or her parents, a teacher, police officer or a school resource officer.
  • Your online activity is permanent. Every stroke, every letter, every like, share and comment is permanent. Whether you delete it or not, whether the app you are using says it will be erased or not, it’s all permanent. Everything lives on a server somewhere and can always be brought to light through the power of the courts and investigations.
  • Nothing online is private. Even if you are in a private text series or in a private chat room or doing searches in a private browser, nothing is ever truly private. Don’t be deceived by platforms that say your identity and/or your actions are unknown; again, everything and anything can and will be brought to light through the power of the courts and investigators looking for illegal activity. There can never be an expectation of privacy online. While kids can often outsmart their parents and guardians online, they cannot outsmart a computer or technology forensic investigator.

I think you would agree, especially if you’ve read the texts, that this is a heart-breaking case. Roy did not truly want to die . . . he needed help. My thoughts are forever with his family. But the injustice of it all must get us fired up to do more when it comes to talking to and teaching our children. This current online, virtual world, is forcing us to do so. Who knows what the next 24 hours of their online activity will contain? Today is a great day to have important conversations and start standing in the gap. For the sake of Conrad Roy and others like him, let’s keep talking.

Posted by Rania Mankarious on 25 Jun 2017

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston