Adina’s Deck was mentioned in this article, “Bullies in cyberspace create a new kind of teenage hell.” The original article can be found here.
By Sharon Noguchi, Mercury News
Annoyed with a friend, three South Bay high school boys thought up a practical joke. They placed an ad in his name soliciting sex with men, listing his home phone number, and hacked into his MySpace profile, changing it to claim he was gay. Callers seeking sex reached the 15-year-old’s younger sister and mother at his home. The student – mortified, angry and distraught – ended up dropping out of school. Although the Internet has woven teens into extensive virtual communities, when harnessed for cruelty it also has become a powerful tool for harassment. Now, educators and parents are scrambling to catch up with young people whose online socializing includes playing pranks and seeking revenge.
The steady rise of so-called cyberharassment has school officials looking at redrawing the lines that determine when and how to get involved in disputes that originate off campus.
“It’s hard for all of us old people to keep up with these digital natives. That is especially difficult when you’re in a position of responsibility for the well-being of kids,” said Nancy Willard of Eugene, Ore., an expert on children and cybersafety.
Harassment online can take many forms, from sending threatening messages to impersonating someone to posting gossip or secrets. It appears to be most common among middle-school students, especially girls, experts say.
“It happens in those in-between years where everyone’s social life depends on the Internet,” said Mekkin Bjarnadottir, 14, a freshman at Cupertino High School. “It’s easier to say things when you’re online, when you’re not listening to someone’s voice or not talking face-to-face.”
The anonymity of the Internet, and its instant and wide reach, offer temptations to mischief – even to people who normally wouldn’t physically bully someone.
“It gives you a cloak of invisibility,” said Jo Ann Allen, the safe-schools coordinator for schools in the area from Santa Clara to Monterey counties. “The person who could be bullying you over the airwaves may be acting like your best friend at school.”
The results can be devastating to the victim – and can spawn a retaliatory cycle, she said.
In the case of the 15-year-old, school officials working with police found the teen culprits, who were tried and sentenced to probation and community service. They also had to write an essay about the pain they caused.
Awareness about cyberbullying shot up nationwide following news reports about a Missouri teen who hanged herself after being teased and denigrated online. In November, prosecutors declined to file charges against her tormentors, who turned out to be a neighboring trio – a mother, her daughter and her employee – posing as a fictitious boy.
“The Internet is the new bathroom wall” – the virtual place kids scrawl something when they want to be mean, said Kelly Noftz, student services coordinator for Project Cornerstone, which works with students at 140 schools in Santa Clara County on issues such as bullying. Kids think they’re being private and anonymous when they harass online – and in reality, they’re neither, she said.
When filmmaker Debbie Heimowitz set out to create an educational film about cyberbullying at schools, she convened focus groups at Menlo Park and Redwood City schools. “Every single kid had some experience either knowing somebody who had been bullied, or reading an IM conversation someone had printed out to embarrass one of the parties,” she said. “Every kid said this is very common.” Her film, “Adina’s Deck,” has made her a popular speaker to educators and youth workers.
Others, however, are uncertain whether the Internet actually leads to more cruelty, or simply helps to etch a potential trail of evidence. Unlike in an offline spat, when a 12-year-old types sexual insults on MySpace, posts on YouTube a cell-phone video taken in a locker room or distributes malicious instant messages, each can find their way to adults in charge.
“If two kids are having an argument on the street, we don’t do anything about it,” said Don McCloskey, director of student services for San Jose Unified School District. “If two kids get in an argument on MySpace, we have more and more parents bringing it to our attention.
“I’m not convinced that there are more incidents of kids treating each other more unfairly now. It’s just that we have documents.”
Some educators have seized upon that electronic trail as a tool for prevention.
At Lawson Middle School in Cupertino, students learn there is zero tolerance for online harassment, Assistant Principal Mike Cellini said. And, Cellini added, he reminds students that when they send something into cyberspace, “Oh, by the way, the world can see it.”
That was a shock to some students at one San Jose middle school who created a MySpace “slut list” of 23 girls and asked viewers to submit comments. Within 36 hours the site was shut down, and the culprits discovered.
When to intervene
Whether and how schools insert themselves into online disputes that fall short of criminal behavior is a matter of judgment about how disruptive the conflict becomes.
“No student should show up on campus and be worried about what people have said at night,” San Jose Unified’s McCloskey said. “They are there to get an education and not play out the drama.”
Contact Sharon Noguchi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 271-3775.