Smart Social Networking: Fifteen Tips for Teens

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 30, 2014

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

Don’t let your social media use negatively affect your life. Follow these simple strategies and avoid problems later!

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2014). Smart social networking: Fifteen tips for teens. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from

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Revenge Porn and the Purge trend on Instagram and Twitter

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on July 25, 2014

revenge porn and the social media purge

Since last weekend, our site has received a lot of reports from both victims and other concerned social media users about the #purge phenomenon that has gone viral. For those of you unfamiliar, The Purge was a movie that came out in 2013.  The storyline featured the premise of all crime being legal for one night of the year. The sequel – The Purge: Anarchy – just came out and has seemingly served as the impetus for some users on Twitter and Instagram (and perhaps other platforms) to (sort of) replicate the storyline. How, you might ask? Well, for a twelve hour period, people are posting and saying whatever they want, and including a hashtag consisting of some variation of “purge” in it (for example, #twitterpurge, #instapurge, #purgenight). Apart from individuals mouthing off in malicious, cruel, and offensive ways (typically against others), the most troubling subset of participants are posting nude pictures of ex-girlfriends and others they wish to humiliate and demean (including those who are underage). This has in the past been termed “revenge porn,” as the motivation is often the desire to get back at someone else. You can imagine the emotional state of someone who has been victimized: they are crying out for help as their privacy and trust has been violated in the most extreme way, and don’t know how to make the continual harassment and cruelty stop.

Thankfully, many are speaking out and labeling the #purge phenomenon as immature and ignorant, and pointing out that these accounts ruin lives and could push people to suicide. We’ve also seen anti-purge hashtags surface like #purgenightmuststop or #purgenightnomore, in an attempt to spread the message that this entire idea is horrible, ridiculous, and must end. Finally, I am happy to report that Twitter and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) have been actively taking down offending accounts in these situations once we let them know of them. The only issue has been combating the copycat accounts which have quickly replaced the ones that were deleted. To be sure, these newer accounts are not really getting as many followers and participation as the originals, and so the hope is that we have reached the tipping point of this particular phenomenon – and its end has begun.

We have written about revenge porn in the past, and unfortunately this is just another instantiation which has gained some traction. The hope is that the speed with which it became a “thing” will be matched by the speed with which it is denounced and quelled. A number of states have specific laws that criminalize this behavior in some capacity: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And more than two dozen are considering legislation. Also, there is a federal proposal being floated in DC called the Relationship Privacy Protection Act, which would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally distribute sexually explicit images or video “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress.” This would be punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine – and third parties who knowingly engage in it could face felony charges and a five-year prison sentences with fines of up to $12,500. The concern, though, is that punitive laws will be passed without thoroughly thinking about a number of issues.  Eric Goldman brings up a number of valid points as it relates to California’s law:  How do you measure intent of causing emotional distress when one distributes the images?  What if the recipient of the inappropriate image never agreed it should be completely kept in confidence?  What about the role of third parties – those who forward or provide external links to the image?  What about hackers (instead of current or former romantic partners) who access and distribute images?  These complex questions require great consideration before moving forward legislatively.

I know that this is a sensitive and emotionally-laden topic, and affects those who are involved on a visceral level.  And as much as I would like to write a scathing diatribe that indicts those who participate in the #purge and other trends that cause pain and embarrassment to others, I know that won’t really solve anything. The bottom line is that while there will always be a minority of social media (or other technology) users who marshal its power in negative ways. And while those who try to get back at their exes or at others by posting private shared with them in confidence are completely in the wrong, we have to be honest with ourselves and remember that these situations can avoided if consider all possible long-term implications before putting ourselves out there.

Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that you can’t truly trust anyone anymore, and so please don’t ever take and then send risqué pictures or videos – even using “ephemeral messaging” like Snapchat (or the new messaging features due out in iOS 8), even to someone to whom you are married or have been with for a very long time. And you’d think that all of us would have learned from the sexting horror stories we’ve heard before (including those which have tragically resulted in suicide). But perhaps those lessons don’t sink in deep enough, or we just believe that it’s just a casual, fun, and exciting way to flirt, or we’re so in love and nothing bad will ever happen, or that the other person would never dare to screw us over.  Or we just don’t imagine something like the #purge could possibly ever spring up, let alone happen to us. All of these rationalizations are natural. And of course, I want to be gracious to everyone, because we’ve all been in vulnerable positions and we’ve all made mistakes we regret.

The premise of the Purge movies and now this #purge trend on social media is that you are free to do whatever you want, and that there are no consequences.  But that is Hollywood, and not real life.  The reality is that there are always consequences (of some kind, even if not immediately obvious), and though we can’t often control what someone does with a compromising image of us, we can often control the creation of that image.  And by controlling the creation of that image (by never taking it or allowing it to be taken!), we preempt the problem before it can even possibly happen.

Anonymous Postings on Confession Pages, Secret, and Whisper

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on April 11, 2014

Confessions Pages, cyberbullying What many adults don’t understand, they freak out about. Especially as it relates to teens. I’m generalizing here, but you know what I mean – we really don’t want the youth we care for to be having secrets, telling secrets, and keeping secrets away from us. Because we don’t fully trust them, either due to past experiences or due to messages from current events and the popular media. Well, in this environment we have seen the increasing popularity and notoriety of online mediums and platforms over which teens (and adults) can anonymously say whatever they want to those around them (see Justin’s post on Yik Yak) or to a larger social grouping. And it’s worth taking some time to discuss these, so that we know fact from fiction and don’t overreact.

To begin, Confessions sites on social media have received some attention in the press over the last year, and here at the Cyberbullying Research Center we continue to regularly hear about the experiences of teens on Facebook- and Twitter-based pages. . Confession pages allow anyone to share personal secrets, rumors, gossip, and anything else they might want others to know about but are hesitant to post publicly or in a way that is tied to their identity. And, of course, everyone who knows about the page (in a community, or school or other organization) can “like” it and thereby can stay in the loop by receiving its updates in their either in their News Feed or via the Twitter account they are following. At this point, they can then participate as a voyeur, or more actively by liking, commenting on, or sharing specific confessions. 

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As an example of how it works on, say, Facebook, a user first creates a “Fan” page (meaning, a page that represents a group or brand or entity, instead of a “Profile” page for themselves. Facebook does not require creators of “pages” to reveal their identity. Visitors can then send private messages to the page with specific confessions, and the administrator of the page then posts them publicly to the Wall for all “followers” to see. Another way to keep posts anonymous is to create an email account specifically to receive confessions from others, or set up a form via free online tools such as Google Docs (or Survey Monkey, or even an page). Then, “confessors” can clink on a link, open up the form, share their confession without giving any identifying information, and click “send.”  The person behind it all then receives these anonymous confessions via email, and then can post them for all to see.

Outside of using Facebook or Twitter, other confessional platforms for smartphones have recently gained traction. Secret is a new app that recently came out for iOS (Apple) users only and has been described as an anonymous “community with no names, profiles or photographs.”  When you make a post, it sends it to you and also to a select subset of your friends (i.e., your contacts), and possibly friends of those friends – all of whom (of course) must have the app (or they are not involved at all). The more people like it within the app, the further it will spread. More secrets are shown to a user when they have more friends (based on unique algorithms), with the primary goal being to ensure secrecy and prevent people from finding out who truly said what. According to the creators, “We built Secret for people to be themselves and share anything they’re thinking and feeling with their friends without judgment. We did this by eliminating profile photos and names and by putting the emphasis entirely on the words and images being shared. This way, people are free to express themselves without holding back.”  They also mention that the anonymous nature of Secret allows for people to like, comment, and re-share other people’s posts that may be considered controversial, giving them the freedom to endorse anything without shame.

Similar to Secret is Whisper, which allows users to post anonymous confessions written on different images and is available for Android devices as well. Basically, you are asked to create a username and PIN, upload or select a picture from their vast library, add a custom filter, and then add custom text (whatever you want to whisper to the world). Then, you can decide to share your location, post it with hashtags to enable others to find it, and share it on other social media platforms. People who see it can like it and leave comments just like we’ve grown accustomed to on Facebook and Instagram, and can also share it across other platforms. Oh, and users can private message each other – which I think is an interesting feature which may provide the app with more “stickiness” and frequent usage than other apps. Whisper never knows who you are, doesn’t access your phone’s Contacts, and shows anonymous posts from all over the world (instead of just from your friends).

Anyway, in an effort to prevent bullying and “reduce negative comments,” Secret recently stated that it is “adding features that detect when people’s names are typed into in messages and warn those who would include them to think before they post.”  Relatedly, Whisper’s CEO, Michael Heyward, stated that their app does not allow people to “use anonymity to hurt anyone else.”  In other words, users are not permitted to use proper names in posts (unless they are names of public figures). So, for instance, “Justin Bieber is okay, but Justin from Spanish class is not. Whisper also employs 120 human moderators to comb through posts in real time” (see here for more information).

Anonymous confession posts can vary from sexual fantasies for another student, to a crush on someone, to revealing one’s sexual orientation or another thing that may often be stigmatized or judged. Other posts are cruel and hateful, and clearly represent cyberbullying:













Students do understand the negatives that arise when these sites are embraced within certain populations. One recently stated to the media that “they degrade people and make them feel unnecessarily bad about themselves.”  But even so, confession pages have garnered tremendous popularity in some circles for the same reasons that other novel environments breed cyberbullying. As we know, people are “more likely to speak their mind” online if their “words can’t be traced back to them.”  Furthermore, (and as Justin recently stated) teens are “hungry for an online environment where they can interact and communicate that is outside the prying eyes of parents.”

In terms of solutions, victims should always take the time to report these pages on Facebook or Twitter, as they violate their Terms of Service IF (and only if) what is being posted is harassing or threatening. To encourage this, you should remind teens that reporting a problematic account on Facebook or Twitter simply alerts the site to look into it and respond. It does not “out” the person reporting. To reiterate, when you follow the Report links on pieces of content provided by these companies in their site and app infrastructure, the person about whom you are reporting does not get any type of notification that you are the one who reported on them. While I don’t have any experience yet working with the creators of Secret and Whisper, I hope they will follow in the footsteps of Yik Yak and do what they can to combat harassment, threats, stalking, and hate speech because it is in their best interests to create a user community that flourishes in a healthy and functional way.

Schools which struggle with fallout from confession pages or apps must always remember that they can discipline students for their online expressions if it substantially interferes with the learning environment or infringes upon the rights of another student (to feel safe, comfortable, and supported at school). And while it may be difficult to discern the identity of who posted what, it’s not impossible since every posting has a digital footprint (which we will explain further in a future blog). We’ve fleshed out these clauses in great detail here and here, in case you need a refresher. With specific regard to Secret and Whisper (and current and future apps with similar feature-sets), it’s quite likely they will go the way of previous platforms like and because most eventually devolve into a “network full of lies and hate.” We just have to continue to educate teens to watch their words even when presented with a prime opportunity to be disrespectful or cruel towards someone else. These opportunities will often be turning points in their lives that dictate how they turn out. As such, taking the narrow road in spite of internal and external pressure to do otherwise is what they need to habituate now, so that it becomes their regular course of action during adulthood.

Outside of the cyberbullying issues, though, it’s important to discuss some of the positives of these environments when considering these environments. Not doing so is neglectful because the use of technology is always a double-edged sword. A DV High Confessions page administrator has commented that although Confession pages “stirred up drama,” they were a “great way for students to voice their thoughts and feelings,” because “these days, there’s a crazy amount of stress that just comes with being a teenager and in high school alone, so being anonymous makes it easier for people to express themselves.”  And so it brings teens together to vent, commiserate, and find common ground in each other’s experiences, which reminds them that they are not alone and that their situation (as painful as it may be) is survivable.

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It doesn’t happen every single time, but it does happen a lot: teens are not sociopaths, and have good hearts, and do take the time to reach out and extend kindness towards one another in this way. And it clearly matters and makes a difference. Perhaps similar to your own personal experiences growing up, I remember clearly how difficult adolescence was, and how at times I felt like the tornado of emotions and stress and insecurities and pain and pressure that swirled around me was going to swallow me whole. And I did have a couple of online pen-pals at that time to whom I felt free to pour out my heart and vulnerabilities in ways I would simply not feel comfortable expressing to my parents, or a school counselor, or even a friend in real life because words typed with my fingers flowed easily while words spoken from my mouth fumbled and sputtered and tripped on themselves as I tried to convey how I felt. And those people were kind to me. Having this outlet and connection helped me so much, just like it is helping so many teens right now. And that is the story with pretty much every technology.

I remain incredibly aware of, and sensitive to, the potential for cyberbullying with these pages and apps, but never want to dismiss an app outright until we have had time for its possibly positive uses to surface. As youth-serving adults, we need to constantly support positive, healthy, and healing self-expression online and offline, but still set and hold to a hard line on expressions that harm others. Education, awareness, reminders, consequences, empathy-building, and conflict resolution skills continue to be most important in combatting harassing and threatening speech made via technology or in the real world. Who knows how long Secret and Whisper and Confession pages on Facebook and Twitter will attract attention. And even when they lose their luster, there will always be other apps and even networks (e.g., Tor) that provide anonymous communications and functionality to users. As such, I’d rather we focus our efforts on building an ethical and character-based foundation for decision-making within our youth. This way, they ideally do the right thing irrespective of whether everyone is watching them or no one knows who they are.

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Teacher shames student in classroom after student bullies teacher on Twitter

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on October 8, 2013

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.

Poor Modeling

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

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on February 7, 2013

h“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.

Misrepresenting Yourself

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

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on October 11, 2012

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

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on December 12, 2011

One of the Internet’s latest privacy controversies surrounds the rapidly-growing web site  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 – 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, 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 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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


Despite the obvious problems that the readers of our blog will have with, 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, 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.


Related readings:


A great piece by The on Hunter Moore and his web site:


A few Forbes articles on Hunter Moore and


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:      



Victimology in Cyberspace

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on March 2, 2010

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 –  Check it out at your convenience.  Basically, it runs a simple script on to identify and aggregate posts pushed through from one geosocial networking site ( 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.

Identity Theft from Facebook and Twitter use?

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on October 21, 2009

Justin and I study and work to reduce various forms of deviance and crime on social networking sites, and this recent article on prompted me to talk about some of the issues therein.

The main thrust of the story is that cybercriminals are now using Facebook and Twitter to victimize unsuspecting individuals through “phishing” techniques, where targets click on a link and are taken to a site that convinces them to reveal personal information.  This parallels the phenomenon of email phishing, where people receive what appears to be legitimate communication from their bank, cable Internet company, or an e-commerce site like eBay asking them to follow a link to fix a time-critical password/account/payment problem by typing in their private data.

The criminal usage of these links (and the convincing content that surrounds them) can be characterized as social engineering, which often involves some amount of emotional pressure to lead an individual to make a quick online decision based on invalid or unvalidated information.  Undergirding these schemes is the promotion of urgency – basically saying that if you don’t click on this link and do the needful immediately, you’ll lose online access, or your reputation may be damaged, or you’ll suffer from other serious consequences.

The bottom line is that we need to make sure that we cautiously evaluate the legitimacy of the sites we visit from links within Facebook and Twitter.  If you think you might actually have a password/account/payment problem on a site, go to that site directly (i.e., type the URL into your browser’s address bar) rather than clicking on a link to get there.  Secondly, use your browser’s (Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Opera) built-in anti-phishing features to verify the legitimacy of sites that you visit (whether directly linked from a social networking or microblogging site, or accessed another way).

Web 2.0 sites have provided us with many benefits, but are now being exploited to perpetrate identity theft and fraud.  Carefully think about what you’re doing – and the validity of the information being presented to you – as you follow links across the WWW from these online environments.

Teen Tweeting

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 22, 2009

Sysomos released a report in June describing the “explosive growth” of twitter over the past several months.  We’ve certainly seen an increase in tweeting in popular culture, but are adolescents jumping on board?  Our conversations with teens suggest no.  And a recent account from one particular teen about his peers’ views of twitter also reaffirms this perspective.

Data we recently collected from 12-17 year-olds also suggests that teens are not quickly moving to twitter.  Less than 8% of youth in two different samples from two different school districts (one very large and the other moderately-sized) say they used twitter in the previous week.  This is inconsistent with the Sysomos report which claims that 31% of twitter users are between the ages of 15 and 19.  Or it suggests that it is really 18 and 19 year-olds that are driving the numbers in this category.  It is also important to recognize that Sysomos numbers are based on “self-disclosed” age, and according to the report “only 0.7% of users disclosed their age.”

What are your thoughts?  Are the kids in your life tweeting?  Are you a regular user of twitter?