When Mark Zuckerberg founded the social media phenomena Facebook® in 2004 no one expected it to be the backdrop of a murder. But indeed it is. On approximately February 5, 2010, a Duval County grand jury indicted 21-year -old Alexandra Tobias on charges of murdering her 3 month son, Dylan. She allegedly shook him so hard that he sustained a fatal head injury and a broken leg. Although he was admitted to the hospital, it was too late. Dylan died at the hands of his mother because his cry interrupted her Farmville game on Facebook®. She allegedly shook him when he started crying, smoked a cigarette to gain composure and then shook him again. She pleaded guilty to second degree murder which is punishable by up to life in prison but her sentence could be less because of state guidelines recommending 25 to 50 years. She has a sentencing hearing in December. While her baby can never be resurrected, it would be helpful to review her medical records to determine whether something was missed. Did she have a drug addiction? Had she bonded with the baby prior to her hospital discharge? Had she shaken the baby before?
While it’s easy to point fingers at Tobias and she readily admits to shaking her baby, perhaps there’s deeper story. Do video game manufacturers design games to be addictive? Social networking now accounts for 22 percent of all time spent online, Facebook has approximately 400 million users and the video game Farmville has 60 million members who access the game through Facebook. These numbers are significant. In order to play Farmville, one must purchase virtual products with real money which could present a problem with someone who has an addiction. Because the Internet and social media venues are not regulated, the “anything goes” policy has consequences. Farmville is played through Facebook so there could be potential liability for both companies if it is deemed that Farmville was purposely designed to be addictive.
Social media is a new frontier but there has to be elements of corporate responsibility. If Farmville is in fact addictive, then at least warn players to play at their own risks.