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«Tackling School Bullying: What you need to know about bullying and cyber bullying legislation, prevention, and best practices “Empowering Today’s ...»

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Too often we minimize the deep emotional scars that bullying can leave on children. As adults, it’s up to us to do our best to stop it from happening.

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Teen’s social media use inspires others Too often, we hear stories about students using online anonymity to bully their peers. But one Illinois high school student is using social media to improve campus morale.

A rising sophomore at Lake Zurich High School created a Formspring page where middle and high school students can leave anonymous compliments for each other. The site’s creator has chosen to remain anonymous herself, releasing only her grade and gender.

She approves all comments before they are posted, often adding an emoticon or positive comment of her own.

Formed this past spring, “LZ Compliments” has received 3,164 postings as of press time.

Students use the site to boost their classmates anonymously, posting such comments as “[student] is a babe and is cute with her braces,” or “[student] is so sincere and an awesome person.” The creator of LZ Compliments says she made the site in response to the ugly negativity she usually saw on the internet.

“I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be,” she told Lake Zurich Patch. “I didn’t know how popular it would be.” While initially the site received negative comments predicting its failure, the student moderator refused to post anything negative. Soon, positive sentiments came rolling in. She says she most likes posts that are well thought out and include more than just compliments on physical appearances.

The creation of LZ Compliments comes at a time when cyber bullying has led to a recent spate of highly publicized teen suicides, or “bullycides,” across the nation. Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s marketing director and sister of site co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, recently argued that putting an end to anonymity online could help curb bullying and harassment on the web.

“People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity, and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind

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closed doors,” Zuckerberg said during a panel discussion on social media hosted by Marie Claire magazine.

The idea of forcing an end to anonymity has met a great deal of controversy from privacy and free-speech proponents who argue that anonymity is sometimes necessary.

However, the student creator of LZ Compliments has said that the brand of anonymity used by that website has caused a wave of positivity at Lake Zurich High School since the site launched.

“People do treat each other differently,” she said. “It made me view Lake Zurich in a different way.” Keeping her identity secret has been a major challenge. While she revealed herself to three close friends, she hasn’t informed her brother, who receives compliments on the site. She often hears students discussing the site at school and chooses to avoid the subject.

However, the anonymous student does plan on revealing her identity at graduation, and she has considered the idea of passing the site down to another anonymous student at that time.

The site reportedly has inspired two neighboring high schools to start similar pages.

“I’m really proud of it, I have to say. It really shows the power of the internet,” she told Patch.

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Student pushes back against college gossip site Hurling online insults is easy when you’re anonymous. Putting a name to that invective changes everything—and that’s what University of Southern California (USC) freshman Haley Winters is banking on.

Winters created an online petition March 21 asking college students to pledge to use their names in posts on the website CollegeACB.com, described by its creator as an “anonymous confession board” with more than 20 million monthly page views.

The petition asks students to sign their names and pledge to take “the anonymous out of CollegeACB.” Winters, a theatre major from New York City, said the website has fostered a culture of cyber bullying across the USC campus, but especially among members of the Greek community. Visitors are asked to rank sorority members by appearance, for example, and sexual exploits—real or imagined—are described in detail for all to see.

“I was really taken aback by the level of viciousness displayed on the site,” said Winters, 19, a member of the university’s Delta Delta Delta Sorority who first found CollegeACB when she came to the USC campus last fall.

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The online petition comes after seven months of “wishing someone would do something about this site. And I realized that by me not doing anything, I’m basically just fueling it and accepting it.” Winters also created a Facebook page that serves mostly as a rallying point for 235 college students who see CollegeACB as a socially destructive force on campus. Winters’ petition had about 150 signatures as of press time—a total she is “not satisfied with at all.” “This has become our version of Star Magazine—we get to rag on each other without any accountability,” she said. “There are absolutely no consequences here … and it’s starting to seep into the actual social life of the campus and affect the way people treat each other.” CollegeACB promotes itself as a rare online forum that allows students to converse openly without the risks that come on Facebook, where everything a user posts or writes can be found by parents, professors, and potential employers.

The site’s facelessness—like many gossip sites that preceded it—has led to strings of sexist, homophobic, and racist rants, along with personal attacks that include students’ full names and the names of their sorority or fraternity houses.

There are many CollegeACB posts that ask for advice on how to handle breakups with girlfriends and boyfriends. Thoughtful responses to personal questions can be found on any of the individual campus pages available on CollegeACB.

Peter Frank, the former manager of CollegeACB, said in a Jan. 11 blog post that he sold his stake in the site and new management had taken charge.

In an eMail message to eCampus News, a CollegeACB spokesperson who did not give his or her name said the site was working with campus leaders at various schools to clean up the strings of offensive comments that populate the site.

The spokesperson said CollegeACB officials have been in contact with student leaders at the University of Maryland (UMD), which until last week boasted a form “filled with hateful and disparaging posts” on CollegeACB.

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“We have seen a dramatic improvement in content with no decrease in page views” on the UMD page, the spokesperson said. “We think that under the right environment and with the right encouragement, all college campuses can be like that.” CollegeACB’s front page features a pledge to host a “more positive and productive place to have anonymous conversations,” adding that visitors would have the ability to remove content they found offensive.

“Mostly these improvements have come from the fact that a core group of students have been much more vigorous in reporting posts,” the spokesperson said. “While they still have a long way to go, we’re confident that in a few months, their ACB will look much more positive.” Moving away from a website built on anonymous postings, however, is off the table.

“We think that anonymity is not only in the title of the site, but it is crucial to what we do,” the spokesperson said.

“Why anonymity? Because everyone has something that they’re afraid to say out loud,” the site’s management said in a mission statement posted to the front page. “We’ll be there when you want to write without responsibility. For some of you, it’ll be an excuse to be judgmental, petty, and mean. For others, it’ll give you a chance to explore your imperfections without looking stupid, to be excited without looking lame, to examine yourself without looking weak …” CollegeACB grabbed the attention of college students nationwide after another popular gossip site, JuicyCampus.com, shut down in February 2009. The site was banned on at least one campus, and student groups spoke out against vitriolic conversation threads that targeted student groups, individual students, and professors.

JuicyCampus was shuttered when its creator, Matt Ivester, ran out of funding. In the months before its closure, attorneys general from New Jersey and Connecticut questioned whether the site was complying with state laws that prohibit “libelous, defamatory, and abusive postings.” 82 eSM STAR Tackling School Bullying The petition for students to no longer hide behind their anonymity, Winters said, isn’t an infringement upon free speech, but a call for accountability on a public and popular website. Several commenters on Winters’ petition see it as an assault on basic First Amendment rights, and let her know it in unsubtle tones.

“I think people on the site have every right to say what they want to say,” she said. “I don’t want to shut it down. I want to lend support to the people who have been victimized by the site.” Winters’ petition is filled with encouraging comments and notes of support from people applauding her stand against hateful anonymous posts. Interspersed within the positive remarks are personal attacks directed toward Winters and racist slurs that draw the ire of petition signers.

The anonymous insults, she said, were not unexpected.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Winters said. “But when you see those horrible things said about you, it just makes our argument that much stronger. … So far, it hasn’t been anything I can’t handle.”

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Companies make a difference Schools and states aren’t alone in addressing bullying. Many companies and others are helping to bring the issue of bullying into the national spotlight, as well as providing resources to educators and school leaders.

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New film examines bullying in U.S. schools “I couldn’t have been hit by a cool car…it had to be a minivan,” laughs Kelby from Oklahoma, an openly gay teen who can’t make the smile reach her eyes as she recalls the day she was hit by a van because of her sexuality. Kelby is one of five people and families documented over the course of a year in a groundbreaking new documentary that aims to shed light on American’s bullying epidemic.

The documentary, called ‘The Bully Project,’ which has a limited release March 30th in select theaters, was directed by producer/director Lee Hirsch, who admits to being bullied throughout most of his childhood.

“In many ways, those experiences and struggles helped shape my world view and the types of films I’ve endeavored to make. I firmly believe that there is a need for an honest, gutsy film which gives voice to kids who deal with such torments on a daily basis.

Through this unflinching look, we will make a difference for other young people across our communities and improve our collective response to this crisis,” said Hirsch in a statement.

Hirsch also explains that currently there is an attitude of “kids will be kids,” and he intends for the film to reach not only those who have been the victims of bullying, but also those who still need what Hirsch refers to as an “empathy push.” Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter, who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus.

The documentary also gives viewers an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias, and principals’ offices, offering insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children.

As teachers, administrators, kids, and parents struggle to find answers, “The Bully Project” examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth, say the filmmakers.

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According to the project, 13 million kids are bullied each year, and 3 million are absent in school because they feel “uncomfortable.” “Bullying is not a normal stage of development,” explain the project’s leaders. “[Bullying] undermines the social and emotional development of our children, and too often leads to tragic consequences.” Starting with the film’s STOP BULLYING. SPEAK UP! call to action, the Bully Project will try to catalyze audience awareness with a series of tools and programs supported by regional and national partners. More information about these partners and programs can be found here.

86 eSM STAR Tackling School Bullying Facebook and Time Warner join to stop cyber bullying A new partnership between Facebook and Time Warner aims to expand the companies’ individual efforts to prevent online bullying. The initiative, called “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” will combine broadcast, print, online, and social media outlets to get parents, teachers, and youth speaking about cyber bullying prevention.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of the people [who] use our site,” said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook. “Online safety is a responsibility shared among parents, teachers, teens, policy makers, and services like Facebook.” The announcement came after a recent White House Convention on Bullying Prevention. The campaign will include a town hall meeting with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, which will focus on bullying issues and teaching adults how to cope with it. It also will coincide with Facebook’s Social Media Pledge App that encourages educators, parents, and kids to make a personal commitment to help stop bullying. Also featured will be Cartoon Network’s bystander-focused bullying prevention resources and expansive coverage of bullying from Time Inc. publications.

“I think it’s important to remember that activity on Facebook mirrors what’s going on offline—and we haven’t ‘solved’ bullying in offline contexts—so it will take some time to address it online, too,” Noyes said.

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