Social media bring harassment to school

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – From my own time as a seventh-grade English teacher, I have seen firsthand how technology and social media have added a new dimension to the issue of bullying.
On a website like Facebook, kids don’t have to rely on word of mouth, but can see what their peers write firsthand. What’s worse, they can participate any time of the day in the conversation that can drag on for weeks or even months. An online “event” doesn’t simply end and go away like an in-person conflict might.
Most of them owned smart-phones which granted them instant, around-the-clock access to their classmates’ online activity. Those without a smart- phone had little trouble finding ways around the school’s web filters, and could access social media sites from school computers.
The controversial material is so easily copied and so easily available, it can “go viral” in a matter of hours. By lunch, if a student isn’t talking about it, they at least know about it. If they don’t talk to each other about it, they tease the victim outright in person or from their own online vantage point.
Slanderous accusations of deeds or character, embarrassing pictures and hateful pages riddled with the comments of the victim’s peers are common. In some instances, online torment becomes so relentless that some students withdraw and move to another district, while some even threaten suicide.
However, many students become desensitized to it, realizing that the negative attention will soon pass to another student.
Though most offenses occur off school grounds and after school hours, schools are crucial in reaching solutions to online conflict. They provide counselors who give students a confidential ally to turn to, and serve as a neutral ground to bring all parties – parents included – together for discussion and resolution.
Bullying easily falls under the specifications of section 19-45-15 of the Mississippi Code. This law deems false statements online about character or conduct as unlawful. Penalties for electronic offenders include imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine.
Often, online turmoil builds over the weekend and erupts into a physical confrontation when the participants are brought together at school. There is a law addressing this as well.
Section 97-45-17 of the Mississippi Code makes a distinction between online slander and potential violence. Making a threat over the Internet is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. While the law is still widely untested, families of victims are well within their rights to hold offenders accountable. Schools may take it upon themselves to turn the matter over to the police when physical harm becomes a possibility.
Riley Manning, who reports on religion and education for the Daily Journal, taught at Corinth Middle School last year. Contact him at riley.manning@journalinc.com or (662) 678-1510.