Saturday, April 19, 2008

Crossing Lines While Reading between Them

There is a bizarre story involving Wikipedia in today's Los Angeles Times, "Hacienda Heights high school student arrested in online threats." Instead of using e-mail, online video, or an online social networking site to post his menacing predictions of a school shooting, the teen chose to use the giant online encyclopedia by attempting to hold the entry describing his school hostage to his violent fantasies.

The first threat read: "On Friday, April 18, 2008, there will be a shooting at this school." It listed as targets the names of specific students, as well as "a good majority of the badminton team and almost every single fob." Other Wilson students said "fob" is a term they use for Asian students, although authorities said Friday that they believed the term could have several meanings.

The message also warned: "Take this text down and it will guarantee their death . . ."

Even as school police contacted the students named, district Supt. Barbara Nakaoka said a second threat appeared on Wikipedia.

The second threat read: "You removed my last edit. I gave you a fair warning. Now the people listed in my previous edit will be victims in the Glen A. Wilson Shooting to occur this Friday. Your lack of attention to the seriousness of my warning will now be the reason as to why you will receive all fault of this event. Be prepared to have 33 families mourn the loss of their children and place a lawsuit upon your shoulders."

What is interesting is that Wikipedia took the relatively rare step of purging the history of the electronic document, which given the FERPA regulations protecting the privacy of minors in educational programs would only be appropriate.

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