Murder Enabled By Social Media

Three British school children lured 13-year-old Oliver Stephens to a park where he was stabbed to death.  This murder came after a dispute between some of the children that took place on social media and now the murder and accomplice have been sentenced to jail for their roles in his killing. 

Oliver’s parents said they were “completely broken” by his murder. 

Instagram and YouTube have been accused of pushing content to teenagers that glorifies violence and invites them to buy knives. An investigation by the BBC programme Panorama found that the companies’ algorithms were recommending harmful content to young people. 

Olly Stephens was murdered, in a field near his home in Reading, but it was only after the murder that his mother and father realised the violent and disturbing world that their son had been exposed to through social media on his phone. Amanda and Stuart Stephens watched their son from separate windows as he left home, not realising it would be the last time.  

Olly wandered over to a field, Bugs Bottom, opposite their house with his phone in hand and fifteen minutes later, he was murdered.  He was stabbed to death by two teenage boys, after they recruited a girl online to lure him there. The entire attack had been planned on social media and triggered by a dispute in a social media chat group.  

His parents were shocked to discover the murky world of violence and hate that their son and his friends had inhabited through their phones.  

Thames Valley Police say Olly's story stands out because of the huge role social media played in the case. And they fear that the evidence of bullying, and violent videos featuring knives found on the killers' phones, is just "the tip of a very large iceberg".  

Just before he was murdered, Olly had been diagnosed with autism and, at that time, he most enjoyed gaming and listening to music in his bedroom. The night after his murder, looking through social media posts about Olly and screengrabs his friends shared with their daughter, Stuart and Amanda began to realise the role social media had played in what happened. 

There was enough social media evidence to convict two boys, aged 13 and 14 at the time, of murder last November who were convicted for a minimum of 12 and the stabber for a minimum of 13 years.  

Sentencing the three, Judge Heather Norton said: “What you did was utterly cruel and utterly pointless, you have taken one life and you have damaged your own futures and you have caused so much pain to so many people... The evidence retrieved from their phones and social media accounts played a vital part in the case we presented to the jury, which has today found both boys guilty of Olly’s murder.” 

Stuart Stephens told Reading crown court “Olly trusted people too much, it was part of his makeup, it was part of his autism, it was why we loved him.” 

What struck the police initially about the mountain of videos, photos and screengrabs they began to sift through was the persona that 13 and 14 year-olds linked to the case were presenting online, so at odds with the suburban reality they were living.  There were images shared on Instagram of people holding knives, with balaclavas on and hoods up.  

The police also found videos of knives being flicked and shown off, and of boys linked to Olly's murder attacking one another, which DCI Howard told Panorama he believes were being shared "openly and very regularly" on Instagram and Snapchat. 

A recent study by the Huddersfield University's Applied Criminology and Policing Centre backs up that idea, finding that social media was a key factor in almost a quarter of crimes committed by under-18s.  Most of these were acts of violence that started with confrontation online. 

Speaking after the sentencing, Olly’s parents urged the parents of teenage children to “take their phones off them” after warning how social media “played a massive part” in their son’s death. They also called for new laws to be introduced to ban unidentifiable social media accounts. 

BBC:      ITV:      Crown Prosecution Service:    Reading Chronicle:    The Times:    Get Reading:

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