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Our View: Cyber taunting nothing to LOL about

Our View
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The common saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” isn’t so true anymore. Before computers and social networking were commonplace, hearing a few hurtful phrases in the schoolyard had an impact but not as lasting as the type of cyber bullying that goes on today. The problem seems prevalent among middle-school and high-school-aged youth, including those who attend in and around Auburn. To fix this problem, which has led some students in other parts of the country to take their own lives, schools, parents and the community need to shine a spotlight on the dangers and consequences of online harassment. Earlier this week, Placer County court officials held a mock trial that involved St. Joseph’s Catholic School sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the Juvenile Detention Center in Auburn. The educational trial was held for a girl playing the role of “A.J.” who was charged with bullying another girl online and then sending a threatening text message. In the mock bullying incident, “A.J.” was upset because a boy she liked didn’t like her. Instead, he sought the attention of another girl, who “A.J.” then targeted. In the scenario, “A.J.” was found guilty by a jury of her middle-school peers of sending a threat that could result in great bodily injury or death for texting the victim that she would “mess her up.” While in this mock case there was no punishment, in real life the consequences are very real. Dave Neher, school resource and Auburn Police officer, said threats could turn into a criminal investigation if the victim feels the person on the other end might carry it out. Placer High School and E.V. Cain Middle School administrators said both campuses have punishment policies in place. Students can be put on a harassment contract for bullying and possibly suspended depending on the circumstances. But that’s one part of the solution. Today’s virtual bullying is fast, lasting and mostly anonymous. It’s easy for a teen to set up a chat room or create an anonymous screen name and then spew insults at their target from behind the safety of their monitor. Harsh words and, in some cases, embarrassing photos, last forever online. They can be quickly blasted out to a large audience with no way of getting them back. It then quickly escalates into a worse situation for the target with long-lasting impacts. In cyber-bullying instances throughout the country, teenagers as young as 13 have hanged themselves over constant online harassment or photos they didn’t want distributed. This news alone should cause teens and adults everywhere to pause and think before they decide to try to hurt anyone online. Consequences such as criminal charges and suspension are good measures to have in place, but more could be done. The Internet is a virtual wild wild West where very few if any laws govern how people treat each other. Personal responsibility on behalf of those making harsh comments or threats is a good first step. Would you say something malicious to someone’s face? If not, then don’t post it online. If you are intent on unleashing harsh words on someone, there should be additional consequences. Legislators should push for laws that force social-networking sites to hand over user information to law enforcement if threats become criminal and possibly life-threatening to another. Parents need to keep a watchful eye over their child’s Internet activity and address any signs of bullying immediately. Schools should take it a step further by trying to prevent online bullying before it happens. Hold an assembly that highlights the consequences of cyber taunts. This could make for an interesting and effective senior project. Students should also sign a pledge to report any cyber bullying to a parent, teacher or administrator. Whether they are the intended target or a friend, students should be united in shining a light and standing up against this virtual form of harassment. As a community, let’s fight this unfortunate trend together.