Social media frenzy over paper clipping

By Peter de Graaf

A Northland newspaper has inadvertently created an internet sensation, with a story published two years ago picked by social media and shared tens of thousands of times worldwide.

The viral message started its life in an April 2010 newsletter put out by the principal of Kaikohe's Northland College, John Tapene, quoting a youth court judge's tough advice for bored teenagers. In short, the judge told teens to stop complaining they had nothing to do, urging them instead to take responsibility and "develop a backbone".

The Kaitaia-based Northland Age published an excerpt from the newsletter in May 2010 under the headline "Wise words".

Since then it has re-appeared, slightly edited, in other newspapers - sometimes misattributed to a Brisbane youth court judge - as well as hundreds of blogs and websites. In its latest incarnation, some 15,000 Facebook users shared "Words for teenagers" after it was posted by a Canadian radio station; and an Alaska-based parenting blog attracted another 500 "shares"and several thousand "likes" after placing the story on its Facebook page.

The judge's message has attracted praise and criticism in almost equal measure.

It certainly has thousands of people talking, which Mr Tapene said was his intention - although he hadn't expected those discussions to go global.

He told the Herald he didn't agree with everything the judge had said, but put it in the newsletter to challenge people's thinking and promote debate. He had since received emails from around the world.

Ironically, The Age - a late convert to social media - created a Facebook page only a few months ago.

- Northern Advocate

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