By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Social networking sites — Facebook, MySpace and the like — often are an easy avenue for bad behavior. It’s easy to post ugly or threatening words online.
Chicago lawyer Evan Brown, who specializes in Internet law, points out Internet postings can lead to both criminal charges and to being sued.
“There is quite a bit of activity in the courts over defamatory content that people put online,” Brown said. “You see it a lot in things like local politics because the people in the community who are interested in these issues tend to be very involved. It’s easy for them to let their egos get the best of them and really start throwing mud at one another.”
But Internet postings can lead to all sorts of ticklish situations, Brown said. He pointed to a Jan. 19 ruling by an Olathe, Kan., judge that Johnson County Community College must reinstate a nursing student while she defends a posting on her Facebook page. She’d posted a photo of herself with a placenta, taken during a class. She claims she was denied her due process rights in the school’s rush to expel her.
“There is no shortage of lawsuits over what people say about one another on the Internet,” Brown said.
What makes Internet postings more frightening is they can be anonymous, they are public and they have the potential to be pervasive issues in a person’s life, Brown said. The psychological distress felt by the victim is magnified because of this, he added.
This potential to inflict psychological distress is recognized by Enid Public Schools. District policy on Internet use specifically prohibits use of school computer to harass others — called cyberbullying. The code of conduct signed by each student reads in part:
“Do not send threatening e-mails.
“Do not send nasty instant messages.
“Do not create a website to mock others.
“Do not forward supposedly private messages, pictures or videos to others.
“Do not take someone’s screen name and pretend to be them while online.
“Do not send messages that contain false, malicious, or misleading information which may be injurious to a person or a person’s property.
“Do not disguise the point of origin or transmission of electronic mail.”
EPS defines cyberbullying as posting or conveying a message that “defames, intimidates, harasses, or is otherwise intended to harm, insult or humiliate another in a deliberate, repeated, or hostile and unwanted manner.”
Not only do EPS officials investigate harassment or bullying involving school computers, but they also are required to investigate any cyberbullying involving any student — whether victim or bully — that is brought to the district’s attention.
Students deemed to have bullied others can have their computer privileges revoked, as well as face a range of consequences up to and including being expelled. School officials also will report to law enforcement if they deem it appropriate.
Ruth Ann Erdner, assistant superintendent for EPS, said she believes the school’s efforts to prevent and intervene in bullying are showing signs of effectiveness, though she doesn’t have statistics to show the decline in bullying incidents.
“I see fewer incident reports that come across our desks,” Erdner said.
When a complaint is made, both the complaint and the investigation are documented.
She added bullying between students can start anywhere — at school, at home, at the mall. But once the pattern has begun between the bully and the victim, it plays out wherever the two are.
“We want to promote a culture of safety, where it feels safe to be at school, for both students and teachers,” said David McCune, EPS director of special services.
The most common incidents seem to be physical threats. Next common are sexual comments, said Adams Elementary School counselor Lori Leap.
“If they are gossiping, spreading rumors, that’s bullying,” Leap said.