Commentary

Woman Kills Baby for Interrupting FarmVille

Alexandra-V.-Tobias

No, this is not a joke in very bad taste, much as I wish it were. In addition to being an absurd American tragedy, the story of Alexandra V. Tobias and her infant son Dylan Lee Edmondson, will doubtless provoke more warnings and laments about social ills "caused" by social media. But as in other cases this blames social media for basic human failings, like being evil.

Tobias has just entered a guilty plea for second-degree murder in the death of her three-month-old son in January. It seems that Tobias, age 22, lost her temper when her child began crying while she was playing FarmVille on Facebook; she shook the baby once, smoked a cigarette to try to calm down, then shook the baby a second time, during which time he may have hit his head, according to her guilty plea.

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Obviously this is a terrible story all round, and I can almost hear media columnists all over the Web gearing up to highlight the social media angle. But once again, I feel obliged to take the non-controversial, less interesting, and possibly more depressing stance that social media's role in this tragedy is peripheral and incidental. The real problem is human nature. Get ready for a cavalcade of depressing statistics.

First of all, this particular kind of child abuse is common enough to have a name, Shaken Baby Syndrome, which results in severe head trauma for about 1,300 infants and about 300 infant deaths in the United States each year, according to a study by the University of North Carolina. There is even a non-profit advocacy organization, the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome based in Ogden, UT. According to the center's Web site (http://www.dontshake.org/) SBS almost always results from young, inexperienced parents confronting babies who won't stop crying; violent shaking causes the brain to rotate in the skull cavity, resulting in bleeding, tissue damage and sometimes death.

Needless to say SBS has been around a lot longer than social media, and can occur in all kinds of different scenarios -- but the basic trigger is almost always the same: the baby won't stop crying (pediatricians say parents who fear they might lose control should leave the crying baby in its crib and go somewhere else to cool off; the baby will be okay on its own for a while and it's much safer than the alternative).

The other all-too-human aspect of this story is the addictive behavior displayed by Tobias in playing FarmVille. But while social media addiction in particular may be novel, addictive behavior in general is nothing new. In fact, a number of recent studies have compared social media addiction to chemical dependency, to the point of inducing symptoms of withdrawal when users are deprived of their fix. It's interesting to note that Tobias combined her social media addiction with chemical addiction in the form of tobacco. Of course, almost anything can become the basis of an addiction: addiction has as much to do with how an individual's brain is wired as the qualities of the addictive substance or activity. According to psychologist Stuart Fischoff, "Everyone is a potential addict -- they're just waiting for their drug of choice to come along, whether heroin, running, junk food or social media."

9 comments about "Woman Kills Baby for Interrupting FarmVille".
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  1. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, October 28, 2010 at 2:55 p.m.

    Good, smart, rational, observant piece.

  2. Diane Dzurochak from NONE, October 28, 2010 at 3 p.m.

    I'm not sure what your point was in this article. I learned a lot of stats about SBS, and I've read much of the addiction info before. Yes, there are some emotionally inept and ill people out there, and yes, plenty of them are addicts. Yes, addictive nature and personalities have been around for seemingly forever as well. That is not enough to 'clear' social media from playing a part though...

    I think its obvious that social media, smartphones, Foursquare and even the Internet in general play a big role in furthering these personal issues in many. How can you deny this when you see smartphone users stopping everything (even actual human-to-human contact) to 'check in' and tweet and testify about absolutely every little thing they do each day? All of these connective resources provide an instant emotional gratification to its users. It's far less dangerous that actual drugs, but when I see the compulsive behavior in some of the social media fanatics, I find it disturbing and I think we all need to closely keep an eye on our social behaviors as the digital world progresses.

  3. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., October 28, 2010 at 3:04 p.m.

    Agreed, though this case seems to have less to do with 'social media' and more to do (in a very local sense) with 'online gaming addiction' -- the same proximal cause that figured, about a year back, in that awful case involving the Korean couple who (by reports) 'neglected their baby while raising a virtual child in an online game.'

    While it's clearly bad reasoning to blame this tragic behavior on social media or gaming (or to ignore the fact that people abuse children in many ways, and in many contexts unrelated to online), there's one sense in which (I believe, anyway) stories like this may constitute a real caution.

    Specifically, I think that activities like online gaming are being (socially, and in an ad-hoc, WOM sense, rather than deliberately by their makers) promoted as ways of solving adults' problems with 'slack time at home.' Playing FarmVille isn't (in most peoples' minds) analogous to vice, and is viewed by many as being a more interactive and stimulating, thus somehow 'healthier' activity than watching TV. So it's becoming a place that some adults will go _by preference_ (and perhaps with the approval and support of others) when there's a need to kill time in the course of performing critical, but intermittently dull tasks, like infant care.

    And for the majority, this may actually work. But for a small minority, it clearly doesn't -- the games are (for these individuals) as vicious as drinking or drugging would be, and that's bad -- particularly when it's combined with a general lack of self-control and ignorance about rules that should never be broken, like the one about not shaking babies.

  4. Thom Kennon from Free Radicals, October 28, 2010 at 3:13 p.m.

    Dude - why on earth would you cover this sensational, off-topic, tragically human horror story?! Oh, never mind.

    @tkennon | bigevidence.blogspot.com

  5. Mark Lubragge, October 28, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.


    Very confused. Your point was that anyone who connects her evil action with her social media addiction is misguided, but that is precisely what you did in your headline. Makes for a good headline for sure, but I feel like you or your headline writer sold out for clicks (which you are probably getting in great number).

    Bt your point is right. She didn't kill her baby for interupting FarmVille. She killed her baby becuase she couldn't handle the crying - end of story. It wouldn't have mattered what she was doing at the time.

    Evil doesn't need a reason (like an interruption) to show itself.

  6. C McGuire, October 28, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.

    I don't think this is about 'evil' or about social media addiction. This is a tragedy with roots in environmental and social conditions. Risk factors (below) probably point to online addictions being another symptom of a deeper problem, not a trigger to the abuse.
    * Low income and associated financial burdens
    * Social isolation and lack of social support
    * Poor prenatal care during pregnancy
    * Diminished marital satisfaction
    * Poor family functioning

  7. Eric Broyles from megree, Inc., October 28, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    My blog post on this

    http://connectandhelp.blogspot.com/2010/10/did-social-media-kill-baby.html

  8. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, October 29, 2010 at 2:13 a.m.

    Only extended family can get away with playing Farmville on my Facebook. These are usually the ones born with a lack of oxygen who would normally sit in a corner during reunions and play with a cat.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 29, 2010 at 6:09 p.m.

    1. YO! I have know plenty of cats who would rather be in the middle of the attention circle.

    2. Everytime before a woman decides to become pregnant both parents need to be evaluated on all levels. Get real. It's not social media. Public forums are not social media. There is nothing social about addictive behavior. It's mostly about talking, not about listening. The yacky yack wonks have disengaged from anything social with others condoning it have made it acceptable behavior.

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