The Dangers With Coming of Age in a Social Media-Fueled World

Reaction to Nicole Lovell’s case has become part of a national conversation.

ByABC News
February 23, 2016, 9:27 PM

— -- Tammy Weeks has been dealing with the unimaginable. Her 13-year-old daughter Nicole Lovell was found dead, her body discovered in North Carolina, across the state line from their family home in Virginia.

Investigators said the seventh grader had been secretly messaging with David Eisenhauer, an 18-year-old Virginia Tech student, on the social media app Kik. They said Nicole sneaked out of her parents’ house one night last month to meet up with Eisenhauer and never returned home.

She was missing for three days until her body was found 80 miles away. Eisenhauer is charged with abducting and killing Nicole, and an alleged female accomplice is charged with helping plan the crime and illegally disposing of the victim's body. Neither has entered a plea.

The reaction to Nicole’s case has become part of a national conversation about girls and social media.

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Nicole’s family believes she turned to social media to find acceptance after being a victim of severe school bullying.

“She had a huge boy crush kind of thing,” her mother Terry told ABC News. “But in the same sense, it was kind of innocent, you know? Because she was still a child, you know? And all she wanted was just the attention… She wanted to feel like she could fit in with the boys, and that the boys loved her and thought she was pretty. And, you know, just like any other little girl.”

In a statement to ABC News, Kik said, “We have zero tolerance for any behavior that potentially affects the safety of our users. As well as our 24/7 support team, we offer blocking and reporting tools to allow users to flag unwanted content or contact. We are also reviewing all aspects of safety across the company… to further address the concerns of parents.”

But Nicole’s story has become a cautionary tale about the dangers of secret messaging apps and their anonymous users.

Journalist Nancy Jo Sales has been reporting on youth culture for over a decade and told Yahoo! Global News anchor Katie Couric that when the Nicole Lovell case surfaced, it wasn’t surprising that social media had played a role.

“It’s so much a part of their culture,” she told Couric. “I mean I think it’s probably impossible if you have a teenage daughter right now that she doesn’t know what Kik is.”

“It’s known for a place where you sext,” Sales continued. “I mean it’s not set up that way… but it’s like, that’s how kids use it. And there’s even, it’s even become a verb, ‘want to Kik?’ … And that means ‘do you want to exchange nudes?’”

But those secret apps are just part of the story. In her new book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers,” Sales explores the dangers of coming of age in a world ruled by social media.

“One of the first conversations that I had with some girls in Los Angeles really set the tone for the whole book to me,” she said, adding that one girl told her “Social media is destroying our lives.”

“And I said, ‘So why don’t you just go off it?’ and she said, ‘Because then I would have no life,’” Sales said.

Sales said she found a culture of young lives playing out on various platforms that promote negative self-esteem, instant and sometimes harsh judgment and harmful behavior like cyberbullying, something that 13-year-old Carrie said she experienced.