Murder of SFA student puts anonymity of social media in spotlight

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The East Texas man accused of gunning down a former Chapel Hill standout athlete faced a judge this afternoon.

Ricky Neal Jr. was in court for a hearing to determine who will represent him. On Saturday, Neal allegedly shot and killed 23-year-old Christopher Mass. Neal also faces an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge for the attempted shooting of 29-year-old Jonathan Dews of Tyler.

According to the Tyler Police Department, the shooting happened because Neal allegedly confronted two other people about an argument on Twitter. As this tragic incident shows, arguments in the virtual world could have devastating results in the real world.

Younger generations say social media is used primarily for two reasons.

"You can use it to feud, or you can use it to keep in touch with people," Stanley Jenkins, 24, of Lufkin, said. "I think, honestly, some people feel more encouraged to do stuff over the Internet as opposed to doing it in person. I think it provides a buffer zone to basically a free for all."

Before social media and cell phones, there were two options - say what's on your mind face to face, or pull out your pen and paper.

One young woman from Livingston said, "Now it's just like a click of a button and you could like ruin somebody's day or make somebody's day."

So, why is it easier to communicate and even argue on social media?

"I think it's more comfortable to talk on Facebook because you don't have to worry about in person," Carley Bynum, 18, of Lufkin. "It's easier to say it and not think about what you're saying."

Benetha Jackson, a psychology instructor at Angelina College, said has become a hidden world.

"You feel invisible online, there's some anonymity; you feel like nobody's going to know you, so you get to say what you normally, you know, what you would not dare say in real life," Jackson said. "You feel free to say it online."

"It's a lot more negative just because it does provide kind of a mask that you can hide behind," Grant Dodson, 18, of Lufkin, said.

That anonymity is a mask for a virtual world where there are no filters.

Many of the East Texans interviewed Monday said today's social media has become a free-for-all, and although it's a privilege, there should be more rules in place on what you can and cannot say to others.

Copyright 2013 KTRE. All rights reserved.