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School Appeals to Parents to Assist
in Quashing “Cyber Bullying”
By: David Deschesne
Fort Fairfield Journal, February 6, 2013
FORT FAIRFIELD—S.A.D. #20 Superintendent, Marc Gendron has reached out to parents and community members in the Fort Fairfield school system’s quest to prevent not only verbal bullying of students, but online “cyber bullying”, as well.
In the school’s recent newsletter, Gendron suggested being careful about posting information on social media websites. He said he’s not trying to limit anyone’s first amendment rights, or imply that opinions are not important. “What I am saying is that incidents where students and staff are being hurt emotionally have been growing at an alarming rate,” he wrote in the newsletter. “I have heard explanations like, ‘I was only joking’ or ‘I only meant it for a few friends’ much too often.”
Mr. Gendron said he believes the expectation of privacy in the social media environment can be a costly assumption to both those who originate and those who are affected by adverse comments. “If someone says something hurtful about someone else and more people comment in support of the original statement, then the damage is further enhanced,” he said.
While the First amendment protects the freedom of speech from encroachment by the U.S. government, it does not protect speech that is defamatory, libelous or slanderous. The Maine Constitution at Article 1, Section 4 also reiterates the right of freedom of speech, but adds that while every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, they are also “responsible for the abuse of this liberty.”
Libel is stating something about another person in writing that harms that person’s character or reputation; slander is the same thing when it is the spoken word. Either way, unless it’s the truth and not done with malicious intent to harm (which are the only legal defenses to libel and slander), libel and slander are actionable for damages in court, especially if the victim can show they’ve been damaged either by loss of a job or income, or loss of position or standing in society.
Most school age children today are toying with social media websites while lacking the social skills, maturity or knowledge of law that would prevent them from writing something harmful about another person while at the same time feeling a false sense of being insulated by their personal computer or internet device within the confines of their own home. They simply do not understand that their actions can have legal consequences on them, and if they’re a juvenile, their parents, too. While public servants and politicians are generally open to criticism in the public domain and have a much higher bar to prove libel or slander, private inhabitants and especially students have much more legal protection from verbal and written abuse from their peers.
“Unsupervised social media activity by children is a recipe for disaster,” said Gendron. “These new technology tools are so powerful. Thank you for helping us by promoting the responsible use of social media.”
On January 27, SAD #20 implemented a “Cyber Bully Hotline” which enables students to make an anonymous report of bullying and begin the communication process. The special local phone number is unique to Fort Fairfield Middle/High School and is supervised by a FFMHS staff member. The grant funded program is just one of the efforts SAD #20 is undertaking to make their schools as safe and welcoming to students as possible.
Fort Fairfield Journal ©2013 David R. Deschesne, All Rights Reserved