The following post appeared on the online classified ad site Craigslist on Feb. 15:
Four Year Old - $1000 (Manitowoc)
Hello, I have a four-year-old boy that I would like to sell. He has all of his immunizations and comes with a full wardrobe. I could throw in some stuff from his room for extra, but I would like to recover some of my money spent on it. Serious inquiries only please.
The ad, it turns out, was posted "as a joke" by a 17-year-old Roncalli High School student who apparently didn't have enough to do in class one day.
Only thing is, Manitowoc police have no sense of humor when it comes to the growing scourge of human trafficking. Nor should they. They did their job, took the ad seriously and spent hours investigating before uncovering the truth - that an innocent 4-year-old boy was not in imminent danger of being sold to the highest bidder.
Impulsive action is not unusual for teenagers, particularly those with ready access to social media and the relative anonymity it can afford. It is sometimes displayed in cyberbullying, posting of photos and videos taken unawares and, in many instances, just plain silly behavior for all the world to see.
The vast majority of this online pranksterism is relatively harmless (see planking), but there are times where it crosses the line into the realm of inappropriate. That line was crossed in this case.
The youngster was throwing something out there to see what would happen. It was an experiment, and what teen doesn't do some of that at one time or another? But here's the difference. People are going to notice when the "experiment" involves criminal behavior like selling human beings or offering illegal "services."
The teen in this matter clearly made a mistake. We hope he - and anyone willing to use social media in an impetuous fashion - will learn from it that such mistakes are far from innocent. They have real consequences. People can get hurt - physically, socially, emotionally.
The youth got lucky this time. Det. Dave McCue of the Manitowoc Police Department said he is "a good kid that made a mistake," and recommended a $681 disorderly conduct fine instead of seeking to file criminal charges.
It is telling that the youngster became upset about the incident only after police explained its seriousness to him. Potential consequences apparently didn't occur to him before the posting.
That should provide a lesson, or what Roncalli Principal Tim Olson called a "teachable moment," to others inclined to similar actions.
Think first. Act - or not - later.