The incident raises disturbing questions about technology and our social connections, and highlights the need to define responsibility to prevent or follow-up on such occurrences. It raises questions about the mindset of students who participated in such a humiliating assault — or why other students who knew about it failed to object to or report what was happening.
The credible Mom's Blog report (based on personal contact with a parent of the student) recounts that a small group of Gunn students, male and female, "got together one Friday evening and 'just for fun' started a group on Facebook called, 'I Hate ... .' As the weekend wore on, more and more students joined the group, the comments becoming more vile and disgusting — each one feeding off the other in a 'feeding frenzy.'"
By Monday the blogger reported that more than 100 Paly and Gunn students had joined the group, with entries that ranged from "insulting, rude comments to actual threats of violence."
If accurate, the incident does indeed raise serious issues that should be discussed, both within schools and in family discussions. Schools generally need to catch up to today's social realities. Many have policies on using cell phones (which increasingly are full-service mini-computers with online access that could facilitate cheating) and the in-class distractions they make possible, from Instant Messaging to "Twittering."
But how much responsibility should the schools bear for off-campus activities of students? This mob-mentality attack on a younger student was a weekend phenomenon.
And who in a school or district should be assigned to monitor Facebook, e-mail, listservs and the expanding universe of Internet-based connectivity?
Schools have plenty on their plates already, dealing with budget crises, aging facilities, achievement gaps, educational standards, and daily challenges and crises.
But this situation should not be brushed off, either. Somehow the students should know they participated in something serious and unacceptable, even shameful. Perhaps some know that already.
The incident also raises serious questions about Facebook's responsibility for monitoring its own content in terms of clearly out-of-bounds activities that could be deeply hurtful to an undeserving individual. Facebook knows how to monitor for porn and libel. Hate needs to be added to the screening.
Editorial: Power 'communication gap'
Thursday morning's widespread power outage that left nearly 2,000 Palo Alto households in the dark as people were getting out of bed is a prime example of chronic problems with getting timely information out to residents.
The outage began about 6 a.m. when a duck in the pre-dawn darkness flew into a main powerline along Colorado Avenue in south Palo Alto.
Utilities crews scrambled and got power restored to about 1,500 homes by shortly after 7 a.m., and others by midmorning. But callers to the city's dispatch center were referred to a Light & Power number, which advised people to "call back in an hour" for more information and then transferred the call to another recording — a barely audible message that only conveyed that the outage was in the Colorado Avenue area.
Police Agent Dan Ryan, on his way to work, was able to get preliminary information about the outage, but that wasn't really his job. Additional details weren't available until long after power was restored to most households.
The unfortunate duck aside, the urgent concern (which we've voiced many times before) is that if the city can't get it together to convey timely information to the public about a widespread but otherwise routine power outage, what will happen when — not if — there's a truly serious emergency or disaster situation?
Solving this chronic and potentially life-threatening communications gap deserves to be elevated to a city priority.