SHERIDAN — A social media site which featured negative and sometimes threatening comments about Sheridan High School students has disrupted school this week and caused administrators to seek removal of the site.
The site was created Monday by an unknown person and soon after, began circulating comments about specific students at the school.
“Actually, I had faculty members alert me immediately,” SHS Principal Dirlene Wheeler said. “It went up Monday evening so by the time I got to work at 7 a.m. Tuesday I knew it was up and what it was about. There were some extremely hateful and extremely hurtful remarks that have been made on this site with names attached. It has been a detractor from our learning this week. It has.”
The site contained offensive and graphic comments about students and some staff members. The Facebook users contributing to the site were able to remain largely behind an illusion of anonymity, as the comments were sent to a nameless administrator and then reposted without any author’s name attached. The anonymity likely contributed to the graphic and offensive nature of the comments, which at times were threatening and harassing.
“The part that worries me a lot about the site is the concern about the safety and well being of the students,” Wheeler said. “Our students are our legacy and every single one is important. When I worry about the safety of our kids, it has crossed the line.
“Anything that happens outside of school on digital technology, if it comes in and affects the school environment and safety and disrupts the learning of other students, there can absolutely be consequences,” she continued. “We have contacted Facebook to have it removed. Several parents have contacted Facebook as well to have either posts or the site removed. We have contacted the police department who is working through the county attorney’s office and we have been getting advice from our school lawyers.”
Wheeler said ironically, the school had an assembly Tuesday morning to specifically talk about positive uses of digital technology and media. There was also an educational meeting for parents of all SCSD 2 students on Monday night.
The student handbook clearly outlines consequences for “bullying, harassment or intimidation,” which can include suspension or expulsion.
Wheeler said the school supports positive use of digital technology by students but works to educate students on the lasting impacts of their comments on and usage of social media.
“Anything you’ve posted that reflects negatively on you, even though you might remove it, it doesn’t really go away,” she said. “There are ways you can call up just about anything there is. There are a lot of companies now that make a lot of money looking at people’s online information for potential employers.”
She encouraged all parents to “friend” their children on Facebook and view their comments. She also suggested parents monitor use of their children’s cellphones and other digital media.
“’Friend’ your kids on Facebook and know what your kids are doing on media,” she said. “High school kids are kids and they don’t always make the best choices and it is important for parents to know what is going on in their lives. Know what they are doing when they are online.”
The content and tone of the social media page causing issues at Sheridan High School also created a debate online between parents who discussed whether or not prevention of cyber bullying was even possible.
Those who posted to the social media page, too, questioned whether or not what they were doing was wrong. Some said it was “entertaining,” others defended friends who were being talked about on the site and still others said people shouldn’t take the comments made so personally.
Sheridan High School is not the only educational institution dealing with digital technology that is used for negative purposes. Similar social media sites also exist for Sheridan College, though mitigating them is trickier due to the adult ages of students.
Wendy Smith, director of marketing at SC, said a team of professionals within the college monitor Facebook and other social media sites and report any bullying or threatening statements they find regarding the college or college students. She said although the college has reported several sites and posts none have been removed by Facebook. Rather, she said the company either responds that the site is not deemed inappropriate enough to remove or in most instances, the reported post or site has already been removed by the time the company goes to review it.
In other cases, such as the one involving Sheridan High School and its students, creators simply begin another page with the same purpose.
Smith and Dean of Students Carol Garcia said that from the time students enter the college, they receive training and guidance on proper and safe use of social media.
“We do bring in specialists, speakers and programs that talk about social media and the consequences of the use of it,” Garcia said. “We are always trying to keep our students informed on the best practices out there and the consequences of harassment and bullying.”
“Anything you put up on social media is something that is up there forever,” she said, noting that months or even years later, information shared on social media sites can come back to damage personal relationships or endanger employment.
Garcia said the school’s student handbook also clearly outlines expected behavior from students as well as consequences for breaking rules.
“Free speech is difficult to control,” Garcia said. “You can see how fast it goes negative. A lot of people will ignore it and it will just go on, but depending on who responds to it, it really ups the ante. It is definitely something we are very, very concerned about.”