Great article from Emily Bazelon in the March Atlantic Magazine on the challenges parents face when trying to stop cyberbullies.
Bazelon highlights a story from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Connecticut, where a girl she calls “Drama Queen” created an anonymous Facebook account to sew discord among her school’s 750 students — 500 of whom at one point followed her page called Let’s Start Drama. The site was a way for her and others to pass along cruel gossip and spread rumors without fear of personal consequences. Before long, the site resulted in many broken friendships and an actual fistfight.
Unfortunately, the Let’s Start Drama page is not an outlier. Similar Facebook pages and Twitter accounts exist in towns all across America — Duluth included.
Bazelon wanted to know, however, how you can put a stop to this. When requests to take down the Let’s Start Drama page from administrators at Woodrow Wilson Middle School went answered, Brazelon went to Facebook headquarters in California.
She spoke with a manager at Facebook’s Hate and Harassment Team, whose job it is to troll through the 2.5 billion pieces of content posted daily and decide what crosses the line. Facebook’s policy, she learned, is to accept first-person complaints by victims of harassment.
“If the content is about you, and you’re not famous, we don’t try to decide whether it’s actually mean,” Facebook’s Dave Willner told Bazelon. “We just take it down.”
Third-party reports, such as those made by a school, however, are reviewed on a case-by-case basis (meaning a much longer wait for action).
Facebook’s approach seems to be in line with what I have learned about formal reports of harassment made to police. In conversations with the Duluth Police Department last year, we were told that if a student is being bullied online, a school can discipline a student within the context of its code of conduct. If a student is being harassed, however, the school cannot report this to the police for legal action. Instead, the actual report must come from the victim directly.
Unfortunately, in the case of the Let’s Start Drama page, despite complaints by individuals and the school, it took more than six months for the site to be taken down by Facebook.
“Someone made a mistake,” Willner said to Bazelon in her story. Because of the volume of material the Facebook employess must review, they simply missed coding the complaints correctly. “This profile should have been disabled.”
Little consolation to the many students at Woodrow Wilson who were harmed by the page — and a lesson for parents who are trying to help. Keep at it.