At schools and colleges nationwide, anonymous confession-based groups on social media sites have added to a medium already plagued by cyberbullying. At Hudson High School in Ohio, an anonymous account on popular micro-blogging website Twitter typifies the problem of bullying teens that is foiling administrators, according to Casey Newton of The Verge. The student body at the school is being agitated by the unsettling source of gossip, as the group broadcasts classmates’ confessions about their crushes, enemies, and sexual escapades. “It’s anonymous, unregulated, and occasionally veers into bullying.”
At Hudson High School, Facebook is yesterday’s news — “Most of Facebook is just people saying, ‘Is anyone still on Facebook?’” one student says — and increasingly, students are interacting on Twitter. In the five months since it was created, an account named Hudson Confessions (@HudConfessions) has amassed more than a thousand followers, or about two-thirds of the size of Hudson’s current student body.
The Hudson Confessions has both delighted and tormented the teens who are following it. The school, however, is still planning on how to respond to social media sharing that remains almost totally outside their control.
Across the country, schools are adapting to an explosion in social media use among students. What happens online often has consequences on campus; by 2011, nearly half of US teens had been affected by cyberbullying, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. “Most kids these days are going to have some type of experience with cyberbullying,” says Marcia Ellis, the council’s youth program manager.
Hudson High has developed and implemented various measures to regulate students’ use of the internet on campus. The school’s Wi-Fi blocks access to many sites and students are not supposed to use cellular connections while on campus. “If a faculty member or administrator confiscates a student’s phone for any reason, policy permits them to search through every text and app on the phone” — but they have little control over what happens off school grounds.
Online bullying isn’t limited to social media, which recent research shows takes place more frequently away from social networks. The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) recently released a cyberbullying study about elementary school students that calls for a change in the way states, districts and schools address online bullying and its prevention, and it found that most elementary cyberbullying occurred in online games. Over 90% of third graders reported playing interactive games online, while just 35% of subjects reported owning a cellphone — the device most widely-considered to be a major source of digital bullying. Children at the highest risk for repeatedly cyberbullying others were the most likely to report problems on Facebook, email, or through text messaging.
Cyber education needs to begin well before middle school as students begin using a range of mobile and online devices, according to the study. MARC suggested that elementary cyberbullying education should probably include lessons relevant to online game-playing dynamics. Also, when a child aged 8 to 11 reports a problem on Facebook, email, or messaging, that should be regarded as a possible warning sign of higher-risk online involvement, MARC said.
MARC suggested that elementary education and awareness about cyberbullying is necessary for school safety and that it can be implemented successfully.