Several fights that broke out at Haverhill High School Tuesday night were not spontaneous, but instead the eruption of pressure that built over several days on Twitter.
The episode showed how social media sites such as Twitter, where students can tag individuals without talking or going face-to-face, can stoke animosity out of view of most adults.
Starting Saturday night, students from Methuen and Haverhill trad@text1:ed insults following an incident that night during a hockey game between the two schools in Haverhill.
One player, who said he was not playing in Saturday’s game, tweeted that he jumped over the glass that night, went onto the ice and hit a Methuen player. For several days, he tagged a Methuen student electronically, saying he would find his address and drive there with a friend to knock him out.
On Saturday night, a girl tweeted that she was punched in the back of the head by a Methuen girl at the game.
Methuen hockey coach Denny Egan said on Sunday night that he did not see a fight at the game Saturday.
“No fight. I was there, and there wasn’t one,” he said.
Whatever happened, a number of students, both boys and girls, were enraged. After the hockey game, hundreds of Tweets flew back and forth, insulting and mocking players and students and mentioning Tuesday’s basketball game as a potential round two. More than a dozen individuals, including hockey players, said they planned some kind of fight for Tuesday.
“Tonight’s gonna be gooood coming back for more Haverhill,” one girl tweeted Tuesday morning.
“Haverhill vs. methuen round two #HillieNation,” another tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
Several others tried to round up students to go to the game to support their side.
Not everyone was caught up in the battle, and several students tweeted that they were sick of the drama and name calling. They were in the minority of tweeters, though.
Haverhill police Lt. Robert Pistone said the Haverhill High School resource officer heard about Saturday’s incident. No arrests were made Saturday, but several extra officers were assigned to the Tuesday game as a result.
Tweeting slowed down during the basketball game, but toward the end when Haverhill had a big lead, Haverhill H@text1:igh students started twe@text1:eting pictures of the scoreboard. Then the virtual trash talking turned into a real fight.
The extra officers turned out to be necessary, but at first they were looking for problems in a front parking lot of Haverhill High. But students had gathered in the parking lot behind the school, where several fights broke out.
The Haverhill officers were overwhelmed and called for back-up. Seven students were arrested, five from Methuen and two from Haverhill, and charged with disorderly conduct. One was also charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Police said she kicked another girl in the mouth.
After the arrests, the crowd broke up, but the back and forth on Twitter, in an often brash and vulgar style, continued through yesterday.
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