How Facebook ruined Thessa's 16th birthday party

Filed Under: Privacy, Social networks

Popularity is pretty important to many 16 year olds, but perhaps this story highlights that being too popular can suck in a BIG way.

A north-German teen, known as Thessa, was planning her 16th birthday party. Like many of us, she decided to use Facebook to invite her pals.

Unfortunately, Thessa's invite was sent not only to her connections, but to everyone as a public event.

Before you groan and think her stupid, check out the screenshot of Facebook's Create an Event page below.

It has "Anyone can view and RSVP (public event)" ticked by default. Now, surely this is a great feature for a promoter or marketing outfit, but pretty awful for the half a billion or so home users who use Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and relatives. I can see why someone might think that "Anyone" refers to all the people a user is connected with, rather than all Facebook users.

Within a few hours, a staggering *15000* Facebook users had RSVPed for the Friday night party. That would put serious fear into any party organiser, let alone a soon-to-be sweet sixteen.

A cancellation notice was quickly fired out, but was ignored by the estimated 1500 people that showed up to her parents' home in Bramfeld, just north of Hamburg, Germany.

Thessa's parents reportedly hired a security firm to help them handle the expected masses. Also on hand were 100 police officers, some on horseback, to help keep the peace. They cordoned off the girl's home, but party goers danced, chanted and drank at its edge.

There are a number of amateur videos of the birthday frenzy on YouTube, but I think this one captures it (the nightmare for the neighbourhood and glee of the attendees) rather well:

While no serious violence has been reported, some media reported that more "enthusiastic" partiers vandalised vehicles nearby and set fire to garbage bins and even a garden shed.

11 arrests were made. And the icing on the cake? Tessa didn't even get to enjoy any part of it, as she was hiding out at her grandparents' house.

A recent Comscore report shows a whopping 59% decline in the use of email among 12-17 year olds, and a 34% decline for the 25-34 age brackets. Facebook, SMS and Tweets have taken over as preferred communication methods.

For all you Facebook users out there, let this be a wake-up call. Check settings carefully before you issue invitations. More information on how to review your Facebook settings is available on the Sophos website.

And Thessa - from us at Naked Security: Happy 16th. Hope the year is a happy one for you :)

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13 Responses to How Facebook ruined Thessa's 16th birthday party

  1. Clayton · 1550 days ago

    RUINED IT!!?!?!?

    Id say she had a great party!

  2. Facebook really should change make the public event box unchecked as a default, especially on the accounts of minors. One day, something major will happen because of this and they will wish they had.

  3. Nicole · 1550 days ago

    How about she actually pay attention to what she's doing? Everyone means everyone. Facebook shouldn't be blamed because she doesn't know what she's doing. It's not like the check box is hidden. Seriously, she kind of deserves it for putting her address front and center anyway, whether to friends or not.

    That's like "checking" into a place and wondering how the robbers knew when to come over.

  4. Blu · 1550 days ago

    The same thing happened in our city in California, and of all the people that showed up two gangs which ended up in a gang shooting when the girl having her 18th Party asked them to leave, One boy who was a by stander was shot, they only wanted friends but like 300 showed up.

  5. Stefan · 1550 days ago

    Same thing here:A birthday which was a public event on fb and then even the media and the commercials made use of it.Of course almost no people showed up,so there were no disasters.

  6. Elaine · 1550 days ago

    I agree with need to pay attention to what you are doing, both in your "real" life and your "online" life. People aren't willing to take responsibility for their actions and then blame someone else when things go wrong. Thessa should have read what she was ubmitting before she submitted it --- but maybe they don't teach "reading comprehension" in school anymore. Elaine

  7. Nick Dellorto · 1550 days ago

    Some people out there. There is a 16 year old's birthday party. I find it just unusual how 15000 people wanted to go to the birthday party of someone they didn't even know.

  8. Guest · 1550 days ago

    The people who are really at fault are those who decided that it would be a good idea to attend a 16th birthday party of someone they don't even know, and particularly those who decided that it would be a good idea to 'celebrate' by vandalizing. Common sense should tell someone that if you get a facebook invite to a birthday party and you don't know the person, it was probably sent to you by mistake.

  9. Eliot · 1550 days ago

    Yes, it's a dumb default, and should be changed - but at the same time, as others have said, people need to take a certain amount of personal responsibility. The setting is very visible, and very clear in its meaning.

    And parents - how about giving your teenage offspring a hand when they are setting up their party invites to your house?

    Perhaps the headline can be re-written to read: "How a dumb Facebook oversight ruined Theresa's 16th birthday party"...?

  10. Heather · 1550 days ago

    I am sorry this is completely her fault. This is why people who do not know how to use something should either read the instructions first or not use it at all. I am still of the firm mindset, that all people no matter what age, should have to take a course on internet usage before being allowed to touch a computer with internet capabilities.

  11. Nigel Straightgrain · 1550 days ago

    There's no question that Thessa's actions were idiotic.

    But that doesn't alter or minimize the fact Facebook is still a friggin' disease. Come on...having the "everyone" box checked by default? That is tantamount to criminal intent. Facebook knows bloody well that a large percentage of their users are careless morons. They have a rather notorious history of disregard for their users' privacy...making many perfectly reasonable privacy settings opt-in, and making many settings that abuse privacy (like the "everyone" box) opt-out.

    All of which simply emphasizes the importance of every user treating Facebook as though it were the moral equivalent of an anti-privacy grenade with the pin pulled. In fact, there is a paramount irony in mentioning "privacy" and "Facebook" in the same breath.

  12. bob · 1550 days ago

    The biggest flaw in any system is the user, you can protect it and make it as robust as possible but somewhere someone will find a way to break it. With facebook though... rather than trying to prevent messups and protect users they have made it so that the slightest oversight is punished by potentially (and in this case actual) traumatising events.

    Why that setting, and any other setting that makes information public is not set to OFF by default is beyond me. Using facebook is a nightmare, from their user agreement to their privacy policy you have to fight to keep any level of privacy. Shame that any potential rivals will be crushed by their corporate might now.

    As much as this was a user error and the page they created was derailed by trolls, its one thing to make her event page into a joke, its entirely another thing to turn up on her doorstep en-masse. This joke was taken too far and everyone that turned up should be shunned not respected. "It was her own fault for making it public" is not justification for 1500 people (some of which are adults) to show up on a childs doorstep. You should know better.

    This says more about how society by the way people acted in response rather than the ignorance on using the internet. People would rather destroy something than leave it be.

  13. anon abc · 1465 days ago

    Of course it was Thessa's parents blame.
    They shouldn't let her use Facebook, as its TOS states that only 16 years or greater are allowed to have an account.

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About the author

Hi. I am a social, brand and communications expert with 10 years in senior roles in the tech space. I'm currently Sophos' s Global Director of Social Media and Communities. Proudest work achievement? Creating and launching award-winning Naked Security. Outside work, I am a mean cook, an avid reader, a chronic insomniac, a podcast obsessive and blogger .