Editorial: Facebook must face up to 'cyber-bullying' | March 6, 2009 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - March 6, 2009

Editorial: Facebook must face up to 'cyber-bullying'

Disturbing report about an 'I hate ...' group on Facebook, in which Palo Alto students ganged up on another student, needs a quicker response

A Silicon Valley Mom's Blog entry March 2 presents a detailed report about a "cyber-bullying" incident involving Gunn and Palo Alto high school students — in which more than 100 students participated in an "I hate ..." group aimed at another student. [http://www.svmoms.com/2009/03/palo-alto-the-home-of-stanford-facebook-and-cyberbullies.html]

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.


Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2009 at 9:29 am

Oh, the city is indeed solving the 'communications gap'. It's called "civic engagement".
Talk is cheap. It's action that is expensive.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2009 at 7:51 am

Here is the link to the Silicon Valley Moms Blog that you referenced in this article. The link you created does not work - and I am sure your viewers would want to see the original post on Silicon Valley Moms Blog.

Web Link

By the way, none of the parents of these PALY and GUNN students were ever notified.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

There are much more serious problems with Facebook.

A rapidly spreading worm is taking control of Facebook members computers

From wiki------

"Koobface is a computer worm that targets the users of the social networking websites Facebook and Myspace.
Koobface ultimately attempts, upon successful infection, to gather sensitive information from the victims such as credit card numbers.

Koobface spreads by delivering Facebook messages to people that are 'friends' of someone on Facebook whose computer has already been infected.
Upon receipt, the message directs the recipients to a third-party website unaffiliated with Facebook where they are prompted to download what is purported to be an update of the Adobe Flash player. If they download the file, they will infect their computer with Koobface.
Koobface then commandeers their surfing activities and directs users to contaminated websites when they attempt to access search engines from Google, Yahoo, MSN and Live.com." Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2009 at 9:02 am

I have heard that the parents of some of the kids were notified. I would love to see the list to see if I know any of those kids.

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Posted by Greg
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2009 at 9:43 am

Are the schools supposed to be monitoring what students are doing at home? Where were the parents of these 100 kids? Did any of the kids (either these 100 or others that heard about it) try to report the problem to either the school or to Facebook?

Like this comment
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm

One thing I don't understand is why any of these social networking sites don't use word, or at least phrase filters. Those kind of filters are in place on plenty of message boards. They could plug in certain phrases or words, then have the submission await moderator approval. Last night KTVU said Facebook is the largest networking site in the world. If they need extra manpower out there to do the moderating or troll sites for over the top postings, they can afford to hire somebody...or two. It would help protect Facebook from liability and would give employment to some lucky person/s. Also maybe protect some kid out there. Win/win/win as I see it.

The other problem, which I have personally witnessed over the years, does lie with the parents. A lot of parents simply feel powerless to discipline their kids anymore. That, or they want to be their friends, not their parents. Other parents feel it is an invasion of privacy to check out their students on line access and social networking sites. Last, there parents that simply don't believe their kids would A. Do this or B. meant any 'real harm'.

As a parent you not only have the right, but the responsibility to monitor your kids on line activities. Until they are 18, you can be held legally liable for their actions. Since that's the case, shouldn't you be more involved?

Last school computers should have lockdowns on social networking sites. PDA's are great fun, but are not really appropriate to have in class. My daughter is in a college studies course that has the students put their PDA's on 'airplane mode', thus leaving the phone (silent) on but making the phone unavailable for data sending and reception. Of course, this is done on the honor system. Another class has everyone put their phones on silent and place them on the upper right corner of their desk to remain in sight during class. The teacher walks the aisles frequently during class, doesn't stay glued to the chalkboard and desk. Maybe we have to go back to the old way, a wall attachment of small cubbies with 30 or so slots behind the teacher and in fill sight to avoid theft that the kids use in which to place their phones during classes and can pick up on their way out.

There is a lot that can be done, it simply takes people who are willing to step up and make what can sometimes, be unpopular choices.

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Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:40 pm

And maybe the kids SHOULD be named. Sometimes the most effective lesson is outing a persons bad behavior to everyone instead of protecting their privacy. Maybe give them a dose of their own medicine, in a more constructive way. These kids certainly didn't respect the kid they harassed! Kids would be more careful in the future and parents more aware.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Silicon Valley Moms Blog just put up a followup article on the site, and a "call to action" for the community.

Web Link