Accepting every “friend request” can be hazardous
High school senior, Lynda Lopez, had done all the hard work and looked forward to a great college experience. The Illinois resident had applied for universities and scholarships in her junior year. Then in October, 2009, she received word that she was a finalist for a full scholarship to two universities. Before going out to celebrate, the 18-year-old went online to update her status on Facebook. As Lynda later stated, “Like a lot of people, I’d always accepted every friend request, never thinking it could be dangerous.”
Shortly after receiving the good news, Lynda got a call from one of the schools. “Lynda,” said the caller, “we received your email. It said you wanted to drop out of the program because the scholarship was a piece of crap.” Astonished, Lynda explained that she didn’t write the message. Then a second notice came from another foundation that she had applied to telling her of a similar email they received. In addition, Lynda received 12 emails under the caption “I will kill you” and something about her stealing someone else’s scholarship. One of the emails repeated the threat over 50 times. Lynda immediately wrote a letter to each school and foundation she applied to explaining what happened. She figured out that the emails could only have come from someone on her list of Facebook friends. Until she posted the news on Facebook, no one else knew except her parents.
Lynda and her mother reported the threats to the police. An arrest was made in January, 2010. The perpetrator was a girl from another high school who Lynda had once worked with. She was in Lynda’s network of Facebook friends. The girl was charged with harassment by electronic communication. She was facing six months in prison and a $1500 fine. In February, 2010, she was placed on supervision for one year and ordered to have no unlawful contact with Lynda.
The schools believed Lynda and she accepted a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Chicago. When asked in August, 2010, for her advice to others, Lynda stated:
“I have learned that when you socialize online you are opening up your world to a slew of unknown people. . . .I am still pretty much the same girl I was before I was cyberbullied, but more caution has entered my life. That is the true lesson in all of this: If you feel that people online know you as well as your close friends and family, then you are probably revealing too much about yourself.”
We wish Lynda the best throughout her college years and thank her for sharing her story. What happened to Lynda may cause you to pause and think before you hit “Accept.”