Following up from my last blog post, and after talking to a number of individuals working in various school districts, this is what we know:
1) FERPA allows schools who learn the identity of a cyberbully upon investigation of an incident that affects the climate or environment or values of the school to protect that identity and refuse to share it with a cyberbully victim (or their family).
2) Some states require schools to report behaviors in violation of state law just as they are required to report other criminal acts (e.g., drug use, weapons possession, sexual assault). For example, here in Florida the scenario depicted in my last post could be classified as a violation of the following criminal law: “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks a minor under 16 years of age commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.” As such, the school would be obligated to report that to the police.
3) A cyberbullying victim (or their family) may therefore be able to learn the identity of a cyberbully by contacting law enforcement, who would not be bound by FERPA.
I hope this helps us a little. If you have further insight into this issue, please let us know.
In April, Justin briefly blogged about this article from the Washington post entitled My Students. My Cellphone. My Ordeal. I’d like to follow up by saying that more educators are contacting us with questions on what to do in cases where students have cell phones with sexually-explicit pictures of other youth on them. While the administrator in the aforementioned article probably could have done a few things differently to prevent the nightmare he experienced, I still want to encourage school personnel to hand it over to law enforcement immediately after they confiscate the incriminating cell phone and before they unwisely decide to search its contents. While school administrators need a lesser standard of proof than law enforcement to perform searches at school, I believe that they should err on the side of caution and let sworn representatives of the law identify and work with sexually-explicit pictures or videos of youth. Thankfully, the administrator was not convicted on any count, and the entire case was thrown out on the basis of a misapplication of the charges brought by the prosecutor. The entire situation, however, was premised on a lack of information, understanding, and rationality on the part of the prosecuting team – which makes me concerned about future cases across our country. If we are going to possibly implement more regulation and respond with greater formal sanctions in new technology cases, we must make sure that those in the criminal justice system with the power to drastically alter the lives of others need to intelligently interpret the Constitution, case law, and *all* the facts of a situation without allowing zeal, emotion, and sensationalism color their actions.
Thankfully, Facebook is soon going to restructure the way it displays privacy settings to users. Currently, those settings are scattered across multiple pages, and it is a chore for individuals to customize them to their liking. When we talk to elementary, middle, and high-schoolers, we ask about those settings – and have found that very few youth take extensive time to lock down their Facebook page on a granular level. Rather, most simply go with the default privacy settings – which are much more open than I would personally prefer. Hopefully by consolidating these settings into one page, it’ll be much easier for users to run through each privacy option and make appropriate selections based on what content they want to reveal (and how it is done). Even more important is that they carve out the necessary time to do it – something we highly encourage. Take the fifteen or so minutes to fully understand what each setting means, and then customize them to your comfort level. Overall, I am quite pleased about this.
Another issue, though, has to do with Facebook’s soon-to-be-released Transition Tool, which will subtly suggest to (encourage?) users to make some of their content available (or shared to) “Everyone” with the reasoning that friends will find you more easily (which is true). However, it’s likely this content will also be indexed by Google and other search engines – which is beneficial to Facebook as they try to compete with Twitter as the premier source of real-time information and status updates being posted and distributed by the masses. However, it’s more palatable for my Twitter page to be found by search engines and individuals that I don’t know at all; it’s less acceptable for content on my Facebook page to be similarly found. To each his own, but just make sure you completely know what you’re doing. After all, it is *your* information out there – and it’s going to be out there for a really, really long time. I’ll share more of my thoughts after I get to play around with the new tool.
As most of you know, Justin and I have conducted some studies on the youth use of social networking sites. Our primary intention was to determine if and how adolescents are rendering themselves vulnerable to victimization based on the content (diary entries, personal information, pictures, video, etc.) they post within their profile pages. This content can conceivably be used by cyberbullies, predators, and pedophiles to bring embarrassment or harm (both in cyberspace and in the real world).
We’ve also pointed out how individuals can unwittingly open their friends up to victimization by posting or revealing personal information or pictures about them to social networking sites. This will continue to be a problem, particularly with new developments in technology. One example that stands out in my mind is Google’s new version of Picasa, their photo-editing and sharing software. They’ve implemented a facial recognition system that can analyze one picture and then scan for matches across hundreds or millions of others. As an innocuous example, I might want to upload a picture of myself, tag it as “Sameer Hinduja,” and then allow the software to be continually scanning other photo albums/galleries (e.g., Picasa or Flickr) to see if anyone else might have uploaded another picture of me. Apart from visual confirmation (when I look and verify if the person in those other pictures is, in fact, me), further corroboration can be made if they are tagged as well (either with my name or one of my fun nicknames!). Extending this logic, it is easy to envision how someone with malicious or perverse intentions could use this technology to stalk someone else, or even create a dossier of knowledge about that person (based on the pictures) useful for gaining their trust or developing a rapport. I am a bit concerned. And this is only the beginning as we move forward in this increasingly panoptic digital age.