News Column

Social Media Apps Fueling Cyberbullying

October 7, 2013

By Tim Willert, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

Allison Timberlake had no clue that her then 11-year-old daughter was the subject of a Facebook page dedicated to trashing her reputation.

A fellow parent broke the news to the Edmond mother of three, whose middle child did not have a cellphone or access to social media on her home computer.

"She said not only does the page exist but your child was added as a member," Timberlake recalled Wednesday. "My daughter, of course, was devastated."

Last month, a video of five girls dancing suggestively at a slumber party made the rounds at Quail Creek Elementary School in Oklahoma City.

"Two of the girls in the video came to me the following morning and were upset because some of the kids were making fun of them because of the way they were dancing in the video," said Heather Clark, a school counselor.

Though not as common as face-to-face bullying, the practice of using a smartphone or computer to harass, threaten or embarrass another student -- often anonymously -- is on the upswing across the state and has local school officials considering social media policies to curtail the behavior.

"Cyberbullying is everywhere," said Melissa White, executive director of counseling for the state Education Department. "Obviously there is a whole lot more technology today. Ten years ago you didn't have Facebook and most kids didn't have cellphones by the third grade."

Next-generation applications such as Instagram, Ask.fm, Snapchat and Kik Messenger that let users text, video chat, shop and share their pictures and video are attracting kids and teens in droves.

"We don't have firm data on whether cyberbullying is on the rise, but our principals say that the use of social media is often a factor in the bullying incidents that do get reported and investigated," said Susan Parks-Schlepp, a spokeswoman for Edmond Public Schools.

One of those principals, Cimarron Middle School's Cordell Ehrich, helps teach students about appropriate online behavior. He also educates parents about the dangers associated with social media.

"What I'm seeing is a lot more kids using devices," Ehrich said. "A lot more students are engaged in social media. Our goal is to create responsible digital citizens."

Posting something explicit online, he said, is akin to having a tattoo on your face that never completely goes away, even if removed.

Tracking a child's behavior is difficult, if not impossible, for parents often unaware of their child's online relationships, Ehrich said.

"A lot of my parents are just figuring out Facebook," he said. "By the time that happens the kids have moved on to something else because it's not cool."

School districts in Oklahoma City, Edmond and Moore have bullying policies and prevention programs in place, including those to educate students and parents on the pitfalls of the Internet.

Original headline: Cyberbullying in Oklahoma schools fueled by popularity of social media applications


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Source: (c)2013 The Oklahoman Distributed by MCT Information Services