A story is playing out more and more often in high schools and on social media this year that has parent and school administrators across the country up in arms: some version of an anonymous school confession page.
In these situations, typically a student sets up an account on Facebook or Twitter named something like XYZSchoolConfessions or ABCSchoolCrushes. The account spreads by word of mouth initially, and eventually grows to have hundreds of followers. While some students use the account to genuinely express crushes or other positive feelings, too often the messages include some form of bullying, profanity or sexually inappropriate material. Needless to say, the negative messages carry more weight and have more powerful implications than the positive ones, and present a problem for the schools.
In the case of a Newton, IA school last month:
“We had had students that were so shaken by comments made on the web that they didn’t want to go to school the next day,” said (Commissioner) McDermott. “(The students) don’t get to worry about things like worrying about school, having fun with their friends or being involved in activities when they have other things hanging over the head, like these negative things on the web.”
As a school administrator, in addition to reminding students about appropriate behavior and the downside of bullying, obviously you’d like to make the account go away. What is happening in these cases?
If you report an account to Twitter that is being used for bullying, harassment or threats, they will take it down. If you report a similar account to Facebook, they will not take it down unless it clearly violates their community standards, which beyond nudity and gore are pretty lax. Facebook may agree to delete individual posts, but they generally won’t fully delete such accounts. It is worth noting though that this week a school in Hong Kong managed to have a Facebook confessions account taken down because of a copyright violation. If the account uses the school name, admins may have grounds to have it taken down.
The concept was innocent, as were many of the tweets, but several of the posts took on a sexual nature by Monday evening. The new account is almost entirely filled with explicit language.
As a parent, I can take comfort in the fact that Twitter applies a more aggressive policy against bullies, but as a free speech advocate I understand Facebook’s stance. What these sites are required to do in the longer term will be dictated by the courts. The Newton school above is considering legal action against Facebook.
For parents and school admins, it is important to remember that the social media sites are not the problem, the bullying is. Social media might make the act of bullying easier or more anonymous, but the only way to truly combat it is with education. We need to get to the root of the problem.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.