I've always been a little suspicious of Facebook's Farmville app, but I never thought it would become an accessory to murder.

The online game, which allows players to plow, plant, and grow virtual crops, seems to turn otherwise sane people into chronic status updaters desperate to get their hands on, say, a virtual shovel.

Seeing serious adults get sucked into role-playing games usually amuses me in the same way seeing businessmen and soccer moms playing with a Fisher Price farm set might. But occasionally my cynicism gets the best of me, and I roll my eyes at people's devotion to such menial endeavors.

The story of Alexandra Tobias and her 3-month-old baby, though, made me freeze mid-eyeroll. To some people, I note, Farmville may not be menial at all. Online networks might be a part of a larger search for belonging and significance—one that can go terribly wrong.

Florida resident Tobias, 22, was slaving away on her virtual farm when her son, Dylan, started crying excessively. Frustrated with the interruptions, Tobias told police that she shook the infant to make him stop. Then, she said, she smoked a cigarette to compose herself, before shaking him some more. She pled guilty to second-degree murder last month and will be sentenced in December.

Like many, when I first heard these details I felt a tragic sort of sickness—for the baby, for his mother, and for the illusions that online communities can create for vulnerable people.

I'm not suggesting we rise up and blame Farmville's creators or Facebook for this needless death. Clearly we humans have the ability to create a stunning obsession out of just about anything under the sun. But a story such as this should still stir some real-time reflection about our online ...

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