Sunday, June 05, 2011

Facebook Sweet 16 Party Invitation Goes Viral; 1,500 Guests Show Up


Most parents are concerned about kids and social networking. We worry about pedophiles, cyberbullying and Facebook depression. "Thessa," from Hamburg, Germany, got 1,500 surprise Facebook guests at her Sweet 16 birthday party. Why? The teen forgot to mark her party "private" instead of "public." It looks like we need to add online event invitation protocol to the list of worries. We might also want to rethink the parameters for accepting online "friends."

Thessa's birthday invitation had the dubious honor of "going viral." What does it take to make something hit viral? Most internet user, even Internet addicts themselves, couldn't tell you. It's an indefinable algorithm of mass emotional appeal and too much free time. Watching a viral video about "David after dentist" or "Charlie Bit my finger" or "Maru" is one thing. Going to a Sweet 16 party for someone you don't know because you got an invite (not even intended for you) is creepy.

That's what made Thessa's birthday party unique; it wasn't just a digitally viral event. It spilled over IRL (Internet speak for "in real life"). 15,000 guests confirmed online and 1,500 live bodies showed up, bearing gifts, homemade cakes and alcohol for the 16-year-old's party. 100 police were called. There were numerous reports of injury from broken glass and one police officer was injured trying to protect his Mercedes-Benz hood ornament on his police car from souvenir seekers. Eleven people were detained.

"Thessa" is not a celebrity. She's just a kid Facebook user. Fortunately, her parents got wind of the viral invitation and called off the party. The teen celebrated privately with family at an unnamed location, while would-be party-goers invaded the family's home. I don't think anyone expected over one thousand to materialize.

While the event was probably essentially a fluke, it bears watching. A teen should be able to post a party invitation without fear of deluge. Also, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg claims to have connected one-12th of the world, but how are they "connected." I'm not sure that these "ties that bind" are very blessed. Some connections are downright weird and spooky. Methinks some people need to get off the social network and practice some real life socializing.

According to reporters at the Facebook party, some rowdier guests started a chant, "Thessa, celebrating a birthday is not a crime" in response police presence at the "event". No, but trespassing, trashing peoples' property and stalking are. They never even got to see their heroine; she had the good sense to hide.

What have we learned today? I'm stumped to find a moral for this story. I guess we parents could make our kids delete their Facebook accounts, but that wouldn't prevent weird people from acting weird. If we did that, we'd have to eliminate all digital interaction, and that's virtually impossible (pun intended). Cyberstalking has replaced football as the new national pastime and spectator sport. I do think the Facebook gene pool needs a shot of chlorine.

Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes from 22 years parenting four children and 25 years teaching K-8, special needs, adult education and home-school.

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