Teen sends Facebook invite to 15; 21,000 reply

A 14-year-old in the U.K. is reportedly unaware of Facebook privacy settings and now 21,000 say they're coming to her party.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

So great is the excitement about a Facebook-branded phone that any privacy issues such a phone might inspire seem to have blown away in the wind.

Let me, therefore, offer a sweet and cautionary tale about a 14-year-old girl in the U.K., who thought she'd throw a little party and now seems to be about to throw a very big one.

The Telegraph has been friendly enough to reveal the Facebook faux-pas performed by the teen. She decided to hold a birthday party at her mom's house and mom kindly said she could invite 15 of her closest companions.

Being almost 15, what other forum could she possibly have considered than Facebook? So she created a nice little event page and waited, no doubt expectantly, for everyone to say "yes." Unfortunately, the everyone she envisaged seemed to comprise, well, everyone. At least 21,000 people reportedly said they were coming, before she realized that she had invited the whole world. Or at least the whole Facebook world, which is more or less the same thing.

Worse was the sudden appearance of Facebook groups inviting people to such events as her "clear-up party" and "after party," as she became the subject of ill-conceived japing. Just to add to the entertainment, she had, unfortunately, put her phone number and address on the invitation.

Now, the police in the small town of Harpenden (population 30,000) are reportedly going to have to guard her neighborhood on October 7, the fatefully festive day in question.

Her mom told the Telegraph: "She did not realize that she was creating a public event...She is going to have to change her mobile phone SIM card because of the number of calls she has been getting about it."

Here's how a Facebook "Create Event" page looks when you click to it. Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The mother added that the teen "did not understand the privacy settings and she has lost her Internet as a result of that--I've taken away her computer so she won't make that mistake again."

There is clearly some tension between what the girl should have realized and what she simply didn't understand. However, some might also ask whether Facebook is entirely people-friendly here. Her mother did offer the company a motherly suggestion: "They should make it obvious that an event that is created is not just going out to your friends but everyone else on the site. When this happened Facebook should have realized that thousands of people going to a 14-year-old's party is not right and shut the group down automatically."

A Facebook spokesperson riposted to the Telegraph: "When someone creates an event on Facebook it clearly says 'anyone can view and rsvp (public event)'. If you leave this checked then it is a public event so anyone can view the content and respond."

Perhaps you, too, were moved to unnatural alertness by the phrase "if you leave this checked." I couldn't leave such a phrase unchecked, so I began to create an event page for myself, which is something that normally I would do shortly after I have donated my innards to the local SPCA.

So much of Facebook's polished posture with respect to privacy revolves around the apex where the philosophical encouragement to share meets the practical suspicion that Facebook wants you to share everything. So I wanted to get a feel for the process.

It is, indeed, correct that when you create an event page, there is a box that reads: "Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)". But the Facebook default assumes that, of course, quite naturally, who wouldn't want the whole world to know about your event.

As with so much of Facebook's sleight of box-ticking, it is up to you to contravene the default and declare "Hell, no!" as opposed to deciding that, hell, yes, you'd like strange skirt-friendly men from Scotland to come to your little soiree in England.

Perhaps one's perspective on that logic might be similar to one's perspective on life. However, there continue to be Facebook groups which debate the joy of the young teen's party.

Here's one for your delectation. It seems to have co-opted her name and some of its members are offering highly educated commentary. Take this one from someone called George Nuth: "She will go down in history...for the biggest gang rape EVER!!!!"

Social networking. It's the future.