Two shattered teen lives, forever changed by one tragic stream of texts. One whose senior year was stolen, who still cannot go to college or get a job because of pain and anxiety. Another who made such an egregious, violent choice that she will spend her weekends in jail.
All of this because of a fight over prom that started on Twitter and texts and spilled over into the real world.
Liana Nieves, 18, stood before a judge last week and accepted her punishment for running over her 120-pound Kenmore West classmate with an SUV last April. Her moment of rage left Maddy Silvia, then 17, collapsed on the street, struck and run over.
“I want everyone to know how sorry I am,” Nieves told the judge. “I wish I could turn the clock back, but I can’t, and I’m very sorry. I pray every day for Maddy’s recovery.”
Silvia will never be able to turn back the clock on the time she spent in a hospital bed. She will never get the end of her senior year back. She will never get to spend a carefree night at the prom. Last week, her slender frame shook as she addressed the court. Her eyes were red. She did not look at Nieves as she spoke.
“I wish Liana could live a day in my life since that night and feel the pain I have had, the numerous procedures, hospital stays and medications I am on, to understand how my life has changed,” Silvia said.
The young women did not mention Twitter or texting in their remarks to the judge. But their online dispute left a social media trail for police and prosecutors to follow. The DA dubbed it a “Twitter tantrum turned tragic.” Defense attorney Joel Daniels noted the role text messages played in the events that led up to the SUV assault.
“It’s something that was always foreign to me,” Daniels said of texting. “But unfortunately, it played a role in what happened here.”
The Kenmore assault is just the latest in a string of teenage tragedies across the country in which texting and social media sites – from Facebook to ask.fm – seem to play an outsized role. Two girls in Florida last month were charged with felonies for their alleged part in bullying another young girl who killed herself. Two football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty in March of rape for a drunken episode in which pictures of the victim were circulated among the town’s teens.
For adults, especially those unplugged from social media, it’s bewildering. It’s tempting to think that these websites are turning teens to abhorrent acts. But Facebook rage? Twitter tantrums? Ask.fm altercations?
It’s a stretch. Teenagers have been mean and vicious for as long as there have been bullies and cliques. What social media has done is to magnify bad behavior. Teenage angst and cruelty are now on display, with distorted proportions and deceptive permanence. Fights that once might have dissipated before escalating now live online forever.
Silvia’s mother, Kathleen, called Nieves’ actions “unthinkable and unforgivable.”
“What my daughter had endured and continues to endure was no accident,” she told the judge. “To say this was a bad decision on a young girl’s part, in my eyes does not pertain to actions a girl took out of anger.”
Nieves can’t take back the pain she has caused. But other teens can still learn from what she did. A texting tiff just isn’t worth the trouble it can cause.
Fights that once might have dissipated before escalating now live online forever.