Teacher shames student in classroom after student bullies teacher on Twitter
Recently, a female student in Northern Mexico posted very offensive comments about her teacher – Ms. Idalia Hernandez Ramos – on Twitter. These included referring to her as a “whore” and a “bitch,” and defaming her in other hurtful and insulting ways. At best, the behavior is a youthful indiscretion that unfortunately hurts the feelings of an innocent person. At worst, it was a very cruel and painful act of harassment which could leave serious emotional and psychological wounds, apart from severely damaging the teacher’s reputation now and in the future. According to how we define it, it would be considered “cyberbullying.”
Most of us likely wouldn’t have heard about this case if not for a video uploaded to YouTube documenting what seems to be a typical classroom scene. In this video, Ms. Hernandez Ramos is teaching her class and covering material that interestingly, (and not coincidentally, we find out) relates to social media etiquette and digital citizenship. At one point, she singles out a female student and engages her in healthy dialogue about how online hate and bullying is extremely harmful, and can destroy the image of the person being targeted – and how teens can suffer legal consequences for their postings. And then, suddenly, the dialogue turns into an inquisition of sorts, as the teacher confronts the student about what she posted, and asks her why she would do such a thing.
At this point, the student is emotional after being called out in front of her classmates. She admits her role as the author of the hateful tweet, saying she was upset when she wrote it. Ms. Hernandez Ramos then remarks how she too is upset, and that so many others have seen the tweet, and that damage has been done. She then demands an apology from the student (and another student who shared the tweet with others) and states she will not allow “young brats” to call her that.
The epilogue of this story is that the student was suspended for two weeks, and the teacher has been placed on classroom leave while authorities determine whether she should lose her job. Overall, the case can serve an instructional lesson as we continue to wrestle with novel problems that arise from the misuse of technology in our everyday lives.
Harm is Harm No Matter Who is Involved
I am glad we are sensitive to the student’s humiliation and shame. However, we need to be equally sensitive to the teacher’s humiliation and shame as well. She was victimized. The worth of one’s dignity should not be on a sliding scale depending on how old you are. Furthermore, it does warrant defending. I would speak up and defend myself if ever bullied, harassed, embarrassed, threatened, or otherwise mistreated. Doing so must always be encouraged among everyone – but it should be done through the proper channels and in the proper environment.
It is good that the teacher confronted the student about her poor judgment and harmful online speech. But it is not good that the teacher publicly shamed the student in front of her peers. To be sure, the teacher herself was publicly shamed. However, we must hold adults in supervisory positions over youth to a higher standard of integrity and character. Whether they like it or not, they serve as a behavioral model to teens. They should take the “narrow road” and emulate wisdom and maturity every chance they get.
In this case, if I were the teacher, I would have been very upset and emotional about the situation. I believe such feelings are justifiable and natural. However, I would have spoken to the student in private, one-on-one, when I was calm and level-headed. In this case, the teacher “set up” the student. She asked other students to record the confrontation and apology. When I speak with teens, I remind them that retaliating is never the answer. It never defuses the situation or resolves the conflict. In fact, it usually makes things worse. Here, the teacher is clearly avenging the wrong she experienced.
We do need to remain gracious and understanding towards teens when they demonstrate immaturity. I wouldn’t want the student expelled, and I believe that two weeks of suspension is a just penalty. However, I wouldn’t want the teacher fired. Given what I’ve said above, can’t we extend some grace towards Ms. Hernandez Ramos as well – especially considering the emotional turmoil, stress, and sadness she must have experienced? Yes, she could have responded in a better way, but her victimization is an extenuating circumstance that lowers the maliciousness of her intent.
Not the First Time We Have Seen This
This reminds me of the situations involving parents who publicly shamed their daughters to teach them a lesson. Supporters of those parents’ actions termed it “creative parenting,” but it rightfully could be considered “cyberbullying.” If the dominant desire of any adult is to instill fear, guilt, and shame instead of conveying a life lesson about right and wrong in a healthy, encouraging, and loving manner, we’ve got a major problem. I’d consider such actions downright abusive. Caring adults should serve a protective function to buffer kids from the harsh realities of the world since they are at such a delicate point in their adolescent development.
Cyberbullied Adults Need Support, Assistance, and Guidance as Well
A number of adults contact our Center for assistance when being targeted. Their stories are as real, raw, and as devastating as the ones we hear from children and teens. Educators need to be trained and equipped to deal with online harassment and hate. This situation allows us to once again shine the spotlight on cyberbullying and ensure our prevention and response efforts are measured, informed, and best suited to truly make a meaningful difference.
Catfishing as a Form of Cyberbullying
“Catfishing,” at least in the online world, refers to the practice of setting up a fictitious online profile, most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship. The Urban Dictionary defines a “catfish” as: “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” So, to “catfish someone” is to set up a fake social media profile with the goal of duping that person into falling for the false persona. And if this has happened to you, you my friend have been “catfished.”
Of course people have been falsifying information online for decades and users have been putting fake information on social media profiles at least since MySpace launched in 2003, probably before. This became more widely known as catfishing after a 2010 documentary film highlighted the real-world ramifications of online relationships. In late 2012, MTV launched a reality TV show to capitalize on the interest in this activity.
A few weeks ago Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o became the poster child for catfishing when he was the apparent subject of one’s online angling. As a public figure, with a prominent social media footprint he was a prime target. Te’o developed an online relationship with someone he knew as Lennay Kekua. It is difficult to know how deep the relationship was, but he did refer to her as his “girlfriend” and mentioned repeatedly that he loved her.
Te’o amassed a wide following when it was learned that his grandmother and girlfriend (Kekua) died on the same day early in the 2012 football season. As a Michigan State football fan, I became interested in the Te’o story because his inspired performance during his first game after the deaths led to a crushing defeat of my beloved Green and White. Soon, it seemed, much of America was watching Te’o and the Fighting Irish.
While it has been confirmed that his grandmother did in fact die, his girlfriend did not. Media investigations revealed that she had never existed in the first place. In mid-January the sportsblog Deadspin broke the story that Kekua was a fictitious online persona created by a friend of Te’o's. From the information we currently know, it appears most likely that Te’o was an unsuspecting victim, though some question his innocence and suggest this was all just an elaborate publicity stunt. In a statement released to the media, Te’o has maintained that he was a target: “To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.” Whether a victim or a co-conspirator, the Te’o tribulations have led to renewed interest in a form of cyberbullying that has been perpetrated against others for many years.
Catfishing as Cyberbullying
Misleading another on social media with the intent to cause harm is not new. In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier began an online relationship with a boy she knew as Josh Evans. For almost a month, Megan corresponded with this boy exclusively online because he said he didn’t have a phone and was homeschooled. One day in October of that year, Megan received a message from Josh on her MySpace profile saying “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you any longer because I hear you’re not nice to your friends.” This was followed by bulletins being posted through MySpace calling Megan “fat” and a “slut.” After seeing the messages, Megan became distraught and ran up into her room. A few minutes later, Megan’s mother Tina found her daughter hanging in her bedroom closet. Though she rushed her daughter to the hospital, Megan died the next day.
Six weeks after their daughter’s death, the Meier family learned that the boy with whom Megan had been corresponding never existed. Josh Evans (and his online profile) was created by Lori Drew, a neighbor and the mother of one of Megan’s friends. She created the profile as a way to spy on what Megan was saying about her daughter. Drew was eventually acquitted in federal court for her role in Megan’s death.
Another, more extreme example, is the case of Anthony Stancl, a New Berlin, Wisconsin, 18-year-old who in 2009 impersonated two girls (“Kayla” and “Emily”) on Facebook. He befriended and formed online romantic relationships with a number of boys in his high school (again, while posing and interacting as these two girls). He then convinced at least 31 of those boys to send him nude pictures or videos of themselves. As if that weren’t bad enough, Stancl – still posing as a girl and still communicating through Facebook – tried to convince more than half to meet with a male friend and let him perform sexual acts on them. If they refused, “she” told them that the pictures and videos would be released for all to see. Seven boys actually submitted to this horrific request, and allowed Stancl to perform sex acts on them, or they performed sex acts on him. He took numerous pictures of these encounters with his cell phone, and the police eventually found over 300 nude images of male teens on his computer. He was charged with five counts of child enticement, two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child, two counts of third-degree sexual assault, possession of child pornography, and repeated sexual assault of the same child and received a 15-year sentence in prison in early 2010.
Anytime someone uses technology in a way that causes repeated harm to another, it can be classified as cyberbullying. Setting up a fake online profile and communicating with someone for the purpose of tricking them into developing a romantic relationship – only to break up with or otherwise harm them – is wrong. It also violates Facebook’s terms of service: “You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission” and “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.”
That said, some people use pseudonyms or alter-egos online to safeguard their identity. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for doing this and as long as your behaviors do not hurt others, or mislead them in a way that causes harm to them, this is probably just fine. It really comes down to intent: Are you masking your identity to protect yourself or to cause harm to others? It is one thing to be protective of your real identity for personal privacy reasons, but it is another thing entirely to create an alternative identity for the purpose of humiliating, harassing, or hurting someone else.
Some might argue that catfishing is harmless Internet fun and that people should know better than to enter into any significant relationship with another person they only know digitally. It is true that people need to take care not to put themselves into situations where they could fall for someone who doesn’t really exist. However, that does not make it OK to use technology to mislead someone, and leads to a “victim-blaming” mentality that gets us nowhere. To be sure, everyone needs to be skeptical and cautious when entering into online relationships. Those who do should consider using Skype, Facetime, or some other video-chatting service that will allow you to see and interact in real-time with the person you are communicating with. You should be suspicious if the other person continues to be hesitant about wanting you to see them in real life or online. Also, don’t give out too much personal information, especially early on, and never go by yourself to meet someone in person who you only know from online. Go with a friend – or better yet a group of friends. They can protect you if something turns out to be not what it seems.
It is easy to be blinded by feelings of affection, especially when someone is giving you more positive attention than you have ever gotten from anyone else before. Just remember to stop and think about the possibility that someone might be taking advantage of you and proceed with the utmost caution. As they say, if something (or in this case someone) seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Nice it Forward
There appears to be a growing movement among teens to, well, be nice. Or at least a movement to actively use social media to say nice things about others. We are all familiar with the myriad of ways that technology can be used to cause harm; this blog is dedicated to working towards limiting those behaviors and experiences. Some students, though, are now working to counteract all of that negativity by marshaling the power of technology to do good. Specifically, a number of teens have set up social media accounts, mostly on twitter, for the primary purpose of saying nice things about others at their schools.
The push to “Nice it Forward” seems to have been started by Kevin Curwick, a high school football player from Osseo, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis). Using his twitter handle “@OsseoNiceThings,” Curwick quite simply tweets nice things to his followers about his school and classmates:
“Probably the nicest girl ever. She’s fun to be around and loves to smile. A great adapted soccer and hockey player. Chelsey Gunderson.”
“Always has his heart in the right place and is doing his part to keep the kindness alive! Joe Tiedeman.”
“The best break dancer at Osseo. He’s the guy to go to for just about anything, especially a laugh. Billy Lor.”
The idea is catching on, not only around the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota (@ERHSnicewords; @EdinaNice; @MinnetonkaNice) but at numerous schools around the United States @TerraceNice; @GNHSNiceThings; @kentwood_nice). For example, a student at a school near where I live recently launched an account (@CamNiceThings) in response to two twitter accounts that were anonymously feeding negative information about the school (the hurtful accounts have since been removed, thanks at least in part to a student who condemned them on Facebook).
I really love this. Sameer and I have long advocated for getting students involved in activities to prevent bullying and for empowering teens to do their part to develop a positive climate at their school (see this fact sheet with some ideas to get them inspired). It reminds me of the Pink Shirt Day movement that started in Canada over 5 years ago when two Nova Scotia teens wanted to do something to combat the hurtful comments that were being directed toward a freshman who wore a pink shirt on the first day of school. Instead of directly confronting the bullies, the seniors bought 50 pink t-shirts and encouraged their classmates to wear pink to school the next day. Talk about a strong message of support for the targeted student. And as far as I can tell, no adults were involved in the execution of this simple yet effective idea.
That also appears to be the case with the Nice it Forward movement. Teens from around the country are stepping up, even without the prodding of adults, to show their classmates that bullying is not cool. The media might have us believe that the majority of teens are bullies and even though our research clearly shows that isn’t the case, it is helpful to see teens take visible steps in their schools to illustrate that the bullies are in the minority. “Nicing” it Forward, so to speak, sends a message to those who are being targeted for bullying that they are not alone and that at least some students at the school are on their side and appreciate who they are and what they do. Everyone has value. But it also implicitly encourages everyone in the school community to be nicer to each other. Students are demonstrating that it is cool to care. And that, my friends, is cool indeed.
What is the story with IsAnyoneUp.com?
One of the Internet’s latest privacy controversies surrounds the rapidly-growing web site Isanyoneup.com. The site, which launched in late 2010, is essentially a hybrid of social media and amateur pornography – described by some media outlets as a blog for “Revenge Porn.” The blog features thousands of posts containing extremely explicit photos of naked men and women, submitted by the site’s users. While self-submit pornography sites aren’t all that uncommon, the real difference with Isanyoneup.com – and the true reason for the firestorm it has caused – is that the majority of the pictures on the site are not submitted by the people in those pictures. Instead, the site serves its purpose as a forum where jilted exes and revenge-seekers may share the most intimate photos of those towards whom they wish to retaliate (perhaps another variant of cyberbullying?). As if that was not enough, the blog has developed over time to include screenshots of the Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds of the people featured on the site.
Interestingly, the site was initially meant to be something much more innocuous. Hunter Moore, the site’s owner, registered the domain to serve as a would-be nightlife and traveling portal. However, Moore grew complacent and the project failed to launch – and its current iteration began one night with Moore attempting and failing to send explicit photos of a woman to one of his friends, and then being inspired to upload the photos to his then-dormant web site. The site soon became a private place for Moore and his friends to add and share similar photos of various women, until eventually a member of a popular online message board stumbled upon the site and began linking it to others (which of course resulted in an explosion of web traffic). The site’s popularity was further fueled when Moore got the idea to include explicit photographs of popular band members, create a Twitter and Facebook page for the site, and feature gimmicks such as the “daily gnargoyle” – posts which feature particularly unattractive self-submitted photos.
As if a site of this nature does not attract enough controversy, the site’s operator seems to relish in all the negative attention he and his site obtains. Moore routinely posts Facebook messages and screenshots of the Twitter responses from people lambasting him for his actions on his website. Recently Moore was featured on Forbes, in articles in Gawker and the LA Times, and even was in a segment on Anderson Cooper’s day-time talk show “Anderson” where he was confronted by two of the women who were featured on his site. In the latter interview, Moore expressed no remorse over his actions and stated that he enjoys what he does as he gets to profit from “seeing naked girls all day.” Additionally, Moore has been threatened with countless lawsuits – which he frequently makes fun of on his site and Twitter feed – and in one case Moore was even stabbed outside of his San Francisco home by a woman who had been featured on the site without her permission. Moore proudly uploaded a picture of his stab wound – and now does not allow submissions of people who live in his hometown of San Francisco anymore.
Despite the site being horrifically repulsive on several levels, Isanyone.com has managed to build a substantial and loyal fan base, with much of that popularity likely being the result of Moore and his controversies. On December 8th, Facebook sent Hunter Moore and Isanyoneup.com a Cease and Desist letter demanding that all relevant Facebook content be removed from the site. Facebook went further by permanently banning Moore, his web site, and anyone acting on his behalf from accessing Facebook. Moore no longer has the ability to link Facebook profiles to his blog posts, but continues to post screenshots of the Facebook profiles of the people he features on his site. In consistently controversial fashion, Moore has alleged he replied to Facebook’s Cease and Desist request with a picture of his genitalia.
As Facebook’s actions indicate, Isanyoneup.com has garnered a fair amount of legal attention. Moore claims he is threatened with lawsuits every day, but to date none have actually been filed in a court. As Kashmir Hill of Forbes has speculated, Moore may have been able to avoid legal ramifications thus far due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The relevant part of this Act is section 230, which protects site owners and ISPs from the content that is provided by their users. For instance, if a Facebook user makes a discriminatory wall post on the site, Facebook generally cannot be held liable. As far as Isanyoneup.con and Hunter Moore are concerned, they have thus far avoided liability because the problematic content on the site is uploaded by his users via a submission form.
All of this is not to say that users are unable to protect themselves. As Hunter Moore himself has argued, the best way to defend yourself from ending up on Isanyoneup.com is not to take such explicit photos in the first place. While that may be ideal, in reality people are apt to make mistakes, and as such those featured on Isanyoneup.com have a couple forms of recourse. First, victims of the site are able to submit copyright takedown requests as long as they were the original owners of the photograph. One would qualify as an original owner as long as they took the picture himself or herself. For example, if a young woman took an explicit photo and forwarded it to someone who then uploaded the photo on Isanyoneup.com without her permission, the young woman could submit a copyright claim to the site, forcing the site to remove the picture or allowing the woman to file a copyright claim suit. Second, the Isanyoneup.com web site also includes a ‘Contact’ tab which allows those featured on the site to simply ask to be removed. There is no guarantee that this will actually result in the relevant photographs being removed, however, as some people have claimed in interviews that their removal requests have gone repeatedly ignored by Moore.
Outside of the aforementioned copyright claims, adults have little other recourse if they end up being featured on the site. Fortunately, minors are given much more consideration by Isanyoneup.com and Hunter Moore than adults are. An LA Times piece on Moore claims that his site goes to great lengths to protect minors, and all signs seem to point to this being true. Submissions to Isanyoneup.com are sent to a separate cloud server where a sample blog post is automatically generated but not actually posted online, where it is then investigated by Moore or one of his volunteers. Moore claims background checks are then performed on all subjects to determine whether they may be minors, as all submissions include Facebook profiles for which they can be cross-referenced. The site itself posts strict and clear warnings about underage content, and claims to forward the personal information of those that submit child pornography to the relevant authorities. In true Isanyoneup.com fashion, the submission page of the site includes a Facebook profile screenshot – including all of the personal information – of a man who submitted underage content to Isanyoneup.com.
Despite the obvious problems that the readers of our blog will have with Isanyoneup.com, the site is – from what we can tell – on solid legal footing. Moore and his site are not actually violating any laws as all content featured on the site is submitting by its users, the site responds to formal copyright claims by removing copyrighted photographs, and it protects itself from liability by storing initial submissions on separate servers and weeding out child pornography. For those that wish to avoid becoming just another featured blog post on Isanyoneup.com, Hunter Moore himself said it best: don’t take the photographs to begin with, and certainly don’t put them into the hands of people you can’t entirely trust.
A great piece by The Awl.com on Hunter Moore and his web site:
A few Forbes articles on Hunter Moore and Isanyoneup.com:
Los Angeles Times piece on Hunter Moore on the band members exposed on his site:
Gawker “Facebook Declares War on Sleazy Revenge Porn Site”:
Two short clips from Hunter Moore on Anderson Cooper’s show: http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/64582249.html
Victimology in Cyberspace
Justin and I have been focusing a lot on what I like to call “Facebook Faux Pas” – or, in general, unwise practices on social networking, social media, and microblogging sites. A new site has been receiving a lot of attention lately – PleaseRobMe.com. Check it out at your convenience. Basically, it runs a simple script on Twitter.com to identify and aggregate posts pushed through from one geosocial networking site (Foursquare.com) where users have “checked in” or otherwise updated their current location through their mobile device’s GPS functionality. Individuals, of course, post these updates to quickly and conveniently inform their friends as to where they are, or where they are going to be. Obviously, though, revealing of one’s location (or one’s absence from home) may increase the risk of personal victimization or property theft – or both.
When giving talks to youth, I share plenty of real-world examples of how teenagers and young adults unwittingly allow a dossier of contact information to be collected about them through the connecting of their candid posts and messages online. To note, we’ve actively researched this happening on social networking sites in papers here and here. To be sure, our research has found that youth overall are becoming more discerning and protective with the contact information they share, but our studies have not included microblogging sites and the content of status updates. If that is the case, those intent on bullying, abusing, or otherwise harming others have an increasing (or at least steady) amount of access to a meaningful number of potential victims based on those victims’ participation within cyberspace. In criminology, we have a subfield termed “victimology” that focuses in on how individuals contribute to their own victimization through negligence, precipitation, or provocation. It seems very applicable as a paradigmatic lens through which to view all of this.
It is remarkable to think how far we have come in such a short period of time as it relates to our level of comfort in sharing personal information online. Ten years ago, individuals were concerned with sharing their primary email address for fear of spam (and usually had a secondary email address which they more often used across the Web). Posting one’s first and last name back then was a rarity, as anonymity and pseudonymity were more commonly preferred and adopted. Now, because of Facebook and similar sites, most of us seem tremendously comfortable using our full name in cyberspace – and posting so much more about who, what, when, why, and where we are. Youth who have grown up with these technologies are even more inclined towards full disclosure, and so we have GOT to get them thinking about what they type, send, and post before their actions inadvertently invite harm.