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Words have power

POSTED August 5, 2011 8:00 p.m.

It’s a different world than when I was a teenager.  I’ve known this for awhile now, but a recent article in the Ceres Courier made me realize just how different.

The Courier reported that a Facebook “burn book” page was created to post photos and derogatory remarks about girls from Central Valley High School in Ceres. When parents found out about the page, they complained to school district officials who then contacted Facebook and the students involved in its creation.

The page was eventually taken down and school officials said they disciplined those responsible, but decided not to notify all the parents of the other students targeted by the online “burn book.”

"They just kept it quiet," said Josie Lorenzo-Castiglione, mother of one of the targeted students, to the Courier. "The girls' parents were not notified. It's a bunch of bull. The parents are not aware and need to be notified.

"As a parent of teens we have rights and they are getting brushed under the table."

School district officials, however, felt they did everything they could.

Jay Simmonds, an assistant superintendent with Ceres Unified, told the Courier Facebook "is a strange world in that if a student posts something from home, legally we have no jurisdiction, that's freedom of speech. We can get involved if it's proven there's a nexus in connection and in this case with the school's name there's some nexus but not as strong as you think it is. It's a nebulous area of law."

As a parent of a young woman, I understand Lorenzo-Castiglione’s feelings on the matter. I also understand the school district’s position that they cannot be held responsible for things students do when they get home.

This issue is interesting, not because of the bullying — which is something I dealt with as a teenager, along with every other teen who ever went to public school —but because of the Internet.

Bullying when I was a teenager consisted of gossip and the occasional nasty note being passed around. Knowing that your fellow classmates are all talking about you isn’t very pleasant — but seeing it in writing, with dozens of comments, is something else.

This is the power of the written word.

As a journalist, I am acutely aware of how much influence an article or photograph can have. That is why the Journal follows a set of ethics.

The Internet has allowed everyone the ability to wield the sword of the written word — for good and bad.

I don’t know the solution to this freedom of speech quandary. I believe young people should be encouraged to express their feelings and have a creative outlet. But protecting youth from cyberbullies and online predators is our job as adults.

The tool that is being heralded as key to the fall of tyranny in Egypt is the same one that contributed to the deaths of cyberbullying victims like 13-year-old Megan Meier.

The website stopcyberbullying.org advocates for education campaigns to stem the tide of cyberbullying.

“If we can help kids understand how much bullying hurts, how in many cases (unlike the children’s chant) words can hurt you, fewer may cooperate with the cyberbullies. They will think twice before forwarding a hurtful e-mail, or visiting a cyberbullying ‘vote for the fat girl’ site, or allowing others to take videos or cell phone pictures of personal moments or compromising poses of others,” states the site.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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