Faceless bullying

The ugly side of social media
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Mar 14, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo

Students may no longer be assaulted for their lunch money or given a swirly in the bathroom, but bullying is still very much alive in schools.

Students at Pisgah High School know this to be true after a school Twitter account has been used as a medium to harass and cyber bully a number of students — causing many of them to walk the halls more anxious than ever.

Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read "tweets," which are text messages limited to 140 characters. Accounts can be set up under a name that hides the true identity of the person responsible for the account.

The PHS Twitter account, posted under the name “Pisgah Confessions,” (@Pisgahconfess) has been actively posting offensive and derogatory comments about students — and it directly calls out students by name. This is making many Pisgah students uneasy as they eagerly check their Twitter accounts multiple times a day to make sure they are not the victim of the next joke.

Being called a drug addict or promiscuous for no reason isn’t something most teenagers worry about, but those are just two examples of posts on the Pisgah Confessions page.

It's not been confirmed how long the Pisgah Confessions page had been active, but as of Wednesday, the page was deleted.

While the elimination of this Twitter page may come as a relief to many students and parents, the book is not closed. Student tweets have complained about a second "Pisgah Confessions" page, which may indicate that another PHS Twitter account has been created under another name.

Other "Confessions" Twitter accounts have been created in the past, including a Haywood Confessions page and a Tuscola Confessions page about Tuscola High School students. However, these pages were also deleted.

Hiding behind anonymity

The student who is operating the account, who posts anonymously, claims that the information comes from information messaged by others. Whenever an upset student responds, the anonymous student blames the sender.

After multiple students had posted complaints, Pisgah Confessions posted on March 5, “…what don't you understand? I POST WHAT PEOPLE SEND ME. It has nothing to do with my general character what so ever.”

While some students consider the posts a joke, it’s no surprise that a lot of other students take it personally. Many have tweeted back threatening violence to the person who is behind Pisgah Confessions.

PHS student Shelby Leigh Woods was a victim of cyber bullying on the Twitter page before it was deleted. According to the Twitter post from last week, Woods was falsely accused of being a user of meth amphetamine.

“I feel like the stuff that was said about me doing meth is ridiculous,” Woods said via Facebook message. “I will never do meth, and have never touched it or thought about it. So it really made me mad.”

And Woods isn’t the only one who’s not a fan of the page. Makayla Tipton, a PHS 2013 graduate, recalls a similar Twitter account being used when she attended the school last year.

“I'm sure it's become a rage in the halls now,” Tipton said. “To some people, it might be a joke. But I know to some people being victimized, it's nothing but hurtful.”

A laughing matter?

Many students and even parents seemed to take the bullying very lightly — and chose to laugh about it rather than take offense.

One follower posted “If you don't like why @Pisgahconfess posts, unfollow them. People are always gonna talk, just ignore it. Who cares.”

Another follower confessed to being a fan of the page.

“The only reason why me and my mom have a Twitter is to read @Pisgahconfess,” the follower tweeted.

Woods, who never followed the page before, called the page stupid, adding that it could be hurtful to a person's reputation.

“I don't think it's funny,” Woods said. “It’s only funny until something gets brought up about you. Then it’s not funny.”

Though Tipton was never a direct victim of the Twitter account, she has seen her friends singled out on the page,

“I've read a lot of the comments and I know a lot of the people it's referring to,” Tipton noted. “This isn't right and it's a form of cyber bullying. It needs to stop. It might be a joke, but to some it's hurtful and very disrespectful.”

“The account is a bunch of lies, and it definitely should be deleted,” Woods noted. “If the wrong person got put on there, it could do a lot of damage.”

Protection policies

Some may assume that the Haywood County School System should be able step in and shut down the Twitter page, but Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte said that was not the case.

According to school policy, the board can suspend a student who violates the code of student conduct on campus but only if the conduct is expected to have a direct and immediate impact on the orderly and efficient operation of the schools or the safety of individuals in the school environment. In addition, Nolte said there was no way to identify the anonymous student.

“The only time we take any action is when there’s an identifiable source and a broken policy or rule,” Nolte said.  “When it goes off campus, the legislation has to substantially regulate the disruption of the school.”

Fortunately, Twitter follows strict rules against user abuse — which may explain why the page was deleted.

According to the Twitter website, targeted user abuse — which means the sole purpose of the account is to send abusive messages to others— is not tolerated on Twitter.com, and may result in permanent suspension.

Twitter reserves the right to immediately terminate any account without further notice in the event that, in its judgment, the page violates the rules or terms of service.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Mar 14, 2014 08:07

I think this story might parallel with writings on the bathroom wall of a generation or two ago.

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