By Amy Sessler Powell
What does a huge house party in Stephentown, N.Y., a flurry of Tweets and a former Patriots player have to do with us?
In this case, about 300 teens in Stephentown broke into the vacant house and barn owned by former Patriots player Brian Holloway during Labor Day weekend. They drank alcohol, used drugs, broke things, stole things, caused more than $20,000 damage to the home on a 197-acre parcel and Tweeted about it.
The story of the teen house party going awry when no adults are home is older than old, but this had a new twist that is worth thinking about – the role of social media and the way it changes an issue that’s been with us forever.
In this particular case, that’s how Holloway, in Florida at the time, found out about the party and turned to social media to watch his home get destroyed in real time. His son noticed first and drew his attention to the situation after seeing something on Twitter.
In the days that ensued, Holloway decided not to press charges but to create an organization called, “Helpmesave300.com” and he invited the teens to help him clean up while they apologized. At first, he didn’t get much response.
He publicly aired the Tweets about the party on his website and printed some of the Twitter names, creating a backlash from the parents who feared the publicity would hurt their children in the college admission process. Some, unbelievably, threatened to sue Holloway.
The situation is beginning to turn around, but it raises many new issues on an old scenario. First, who made the situation public? Holloway or the teens themselves?
The teens and some of their parents might argue that Holloway publicized the names. But, he only drew attention to what was already online. If these teens did not want to be public, why go online? Tucked away in Florida, Holloway may not have discovered the damage for a little while.
Instead, he has photos, timelines, names and scenarios. And, he’s not alone. The police have all of this too, making it fairly simple to investigate, arrest and prosecute if they decide to move in that direction.
Bragging has been with us longer than house parties. Before social media, a drunken brag was quickly forgotten. Now, it lives. Why do teens feel the need to brag about their exploits online? And, why do they think that no one else pays attention?
In this case, enormous amount of discussion and community activism seem to have emerged. A visit to helpmesave300.com is upbeat with pictures of the house being fixed, thanks to many who helped and so forth. The community is talking.
The issues raised need to get an airing in Stephentown and everywhere else. There are so many times when teens get in trouble, yes doing the same things we all may have done as teens or at least some minor variation. They often use this as their excuse. Tell me you never did anything wrong when you were young, they might say.
But, the world has changed. No permanent record existed of the misdoings of the past generations. This generation is paving that road. Now, there is almost always an electronic trail from every party. Someone monitoring Twitter, Instagram or Vine would most likely find what they are looking for. There is always photo evidence.
What was once a brag to a trusted friend is now a Tweet that lives on, that is seen by so many more people, like parents, clergy, coaches, teachers, admissions directors and future employers. I applaud Holloway for making it a teachable moment, an opportunity to think and more than “nights we don’t remember and friends we won’t forget.”
The person who thought that up is likely pleased with the number of retweets. Or maybe, he’s thinking about it now just as we are.