A mom has been reunited with her allegedly kidnapped kids via Facebook — but now they hate her. The family's story is a disturbing example of the powers — and limits — of social networking.
Gillian Flaccus of the AP describes the ordeal of Prince Sagala, who says her now-estranged husband took their son and daughter to live in Mexico without her knowledge or consent in 1995, when they were toddlers. Police apparently did little to try to get the kids back, and Sagala eventually gave up and had more kids — who knew how to use Facebook. It was with her 12-year-old daughter's help that she found her missing daughter and son on the site. Authorities were then able to locate the kids and arrest their dad.
But now Sagala's daughter and son are furious. Her daughter had resisted Sagala's attempts to contact her via Facebook, saying, "A flower that was born in a forest can't live in the desert." Now, says Sagala,
She doesn't know me, her father's in jail. I guess she does blame me for this. She doesn't know the truth. I told her, you can see me right now, I'm not that person like what you thought for 15 years, like what your father told you.
And to make things even more complicated, Sagala faces domestic violence charges, meaning she can only have supervised visits with her older kids anyway. It's hard to say who's telling the truth here — it's possible that some of the "bad things" Sagala's husband told the kids about her are accurate. What sets this case apart from other custody battles, however, is the extent to which Facebook seemed like a solution to all of Sagala's problems — and the extent to which it wasn't. Kids taken out of the country used to disappear — so much so that airports sometimes require both parents' presence for kids to board international flights. A diligent kidnapper, sadly, can still hide a child from authorities, but absent efforts at concealment, the average teen's web presence is a pretty powerful tracer beacon.
But just because Sagala's daughter was on Facebook didn't mean she wanted to be found, and her story may illustrate some of the limits of the technology. As much as Facebook looks like an online directory of users' personal information, from favorite bands to party photos to the addresses of alleged kidnap victims, that's not how young people really want to use it. Much as the media may claim that "Generation Me" is cool with showing their credit card statements to the world, many people ultimately think of Facebook as a way to communicate with a select group of people. And although the site may lead to justice for Sagala and her husband, that's more of a bug than a feature — it exposed Sagala's kids to the one person they didn't want finding them. Sagala and her family have to figure out the personal implications of this — and the police responsible for the case should ask themselves why a social networking site did a better job than they did. But for Facebook, this story should be yet another reminder that young people expect a level of privacy they're not getting.