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When Does It Stop? The Bullying Epidemic in America Today

the picture consist of articles on bullying, I...

the picture consist of articles on bullying, I obtained it from public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I noted in the previous blog post, I may include some original reporting of my own.  In this case, it is a human interest story about bullying.  The names have been changed to protect the identities of those who spoke to me.  This was done because they agreed to speak to me with the understanding that this article was not to be published and was for classroom use only.  This is a true story and these are real people.

Christy Blake, a 10-year-old, went to school like she did any other day. By the end of that same day she went home distraught and in tears. Another girl, who she thought was her friend, gave her a Post-It-Note that had been passed around to her fellow classmates. That note read, “Christy is a fucking pig.”

According to a nationwide survey, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005, 6% of high school students that participated, reported that they did not go to school on one or more of the previous 30 days because they feared for their safety. The survey began in 1991 and spanned 14 years in the hopes to understand a steady trend in the nations public schools.

In the fall of 2010, roughly within six weeks, four teens, the oldest a freshman in college, and the youngest just 13 years old, committed suicide as a result of bullying. This has given birth to a new term, bullicide. The Columbine shooting in 1999, prompted the state of Georgia to be the first among 47 other states to pass anti-bullying laws and in 2010, Georgia passed a state bill that reenforced its anti-bullying law, which states a person accused of bullying can be re-assigned to a different school to put distance between the offender and the victim.

Why the sudden increase in the pro-active stance by the schools against bullying?D. Blake, the mother of the bullied 10-year-old Blake, believes it’s got everything to do with exposure. “What’s going on is that there’s more press on it, more news focused on it, we have social networks and emails and internet…that wasn’t there 50 years ago. Now people are talking about it because when somebody kills themselves because of it, it’s on Facebook and it’s all over the place.”

J. Warrant, a teacher in the Connetquot School District explained, “On Wednesdays all of the staff members wear a green shirt. The shirt is worn to raise the awareness of bullying in school. The front of the shirt says, ‘Got Kindness?’ and the back has the number 160,000…the number of students that stay home from school everyday due to bullies in New York State.” According to the New York State Center for School Safety Organization, this number is accurate on any given day.

M. Light, Assistant Principal for the Brentwood School District says that he believes the loss of education is the most severe punishment a school can do to a child. He says that he feels his district and administrative staff takes a strong enough stance against bullying, which can include multiple days suspension and even the possibility of a superintendent hearing that can lead to expulsion from the school or district. Even with these seemingly heavy consequences and proactive programs like peer meditation and anti-bullying rules, he admits, “ Yes, I have seen students being bullied and in some cases teachers as well. Many times, bullying is seen through the internet now for everyone to see.” Light says the most severe case of bullying that he is aware of in his school, was a case of cyber-bullying, when inappropriate pictures were being displayed on Facebook and cell phones.

Warrant agrees with Light in that, “There are so many ways to bully, not only face to face but by computer and text.”

R. Story, a school social worker for Sayville School District for over 30 years, recalls her school having classroom discussions about bullying with children as young as five years old. “Really, the bigger part of that is teaching the children to be appropriately assertive. We over sensitize kids, so we tell them oh you know, nobody should say this to you or make you feel this way and that’s appropriate but we also need to enable them to be resilient to the point where they can say, you know what, this isn’t my problem this is your problem. They don’t have to internalize everything someone says or does to them.” Story also went on to say that she doesn’t think the schools do enough in terms of teaching children they don’t have to accept bullying or tolerate it.

Kate Williams recalls when her son Brian, who is a student in the Connetquot School District, was bullied constantly by the neighbor’s boy. “Brian was getting ready for his communion and Toby said, ‘I bet your mom is going to take a lot of pictures of you today’, then proceeded to smack him across the face with a stick, and said ‘that should look great!’ Toby was in first grade then. Imagine him now, eighth grade. He’s a sociopath, barred from school sports.” Williams said she really doesn’t feel schools do enough and their actions seem fruitless in her opinion. “Seems like these days the schools mean well, but are also trying to protect themselves against any litigation, now that young kids are being held liable for suicidal teens, and school administrators have to answer to authorities in those cases. So much bullying goes unreported for fear of repercussions. Sad, but a fact of childhood nonetheless. It makes my heart hurt.”


On Oct. 26, 2010, shortly after the series of bullicides, the United States Department of Education issued what they call a guidance for educators to combat bullying in their schools. This guidance outlined that, “…a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate what occurred once a school knows, or reasonably should know, of possible student-on-student harassment. A school must also take prompt and effective steps to end harassment if it has occurred, eliminate any hostile environment and prevent recurrence.” Failure of the schools to practice this type of guided response, may in fact, leave them open to litigation.


Could Facebook and Twitter Become a Thing of the Past?

Social Media Week 2012 SP

Social Media Week 2012 SP (Photo credit: Fora do Eixo)

In a blog post for 10,000 WORDS, sponsored by Media Bistro, Ben LaMothe writes about his experience lecturing to students at Central Michigan University.  He discusses the relationship of social media to mass communications and journalism.

After his lecture, LaMothe had a Q & A session and found something surprised him.  The students had voiced concerns that social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, were just trends and eventually could fall to the wayside and become something of the past.  They raised questions about whether education institutions should  offer a degree or certificate program in social media.  According to LaMothe, the students also had concerns that while conducting a job search they feared Facebook accounts could hurt their employment chances.

LaMothe writes, “Students are curious about how social media can impact their job search, but are also afraid of how it could be used against them in the search. Some students viewed the idea of maintaining a “clean” profile as unacceptable, and wondered if it was better to have no Facebook presence at all.  I explained that if they view it as one or the other, then it would probably be better not to have a presence at all. It doesn’t give a recruiter something to use against you in the job seeking process. But when you’re applying for a job in media, it could work against you not having a presence.”

On this point, I would have to disagree slightly with LaMothe.  I think a Facebook presence can in fact hurt employment chances.  We have seen recently articles surfacing about employers requesting the passwords of the social media accounts of new hires.  I know of fellow classmates who have applied for internships, find that they’re recruiter decided not to follow their “clean” or professional profile on Twitter, rather their personal one.  Users say and show a lot about themselves on social media, and I think employers are aware of this, and choose to get a “real” feel for the person they have hired or may hire.  I do agree that if you view it as having one or the other, you probably shouldn’t have an account at all.  I’m not sure why anyone looking for employment these days, with the knowledge of how far-reaching the internet is, would post things on social media websites that they wouldn’t disclose in an interview.

I also agree with LaMothe, it could hurt your employment potential if you are looking for work in media.  Considering the direction social media seems to have taken with regards to communication and journalism, not having a presence these days is just plain silly.

I know a lot of people who can’t stand the idea of social media and they don’t understand why people embrace it.  For me personally, I have to embrace it.  I need to be as absolutely connected as possible.  Social media is a great tool for journalists, writers and just about anyone else who want to get published or be involved in the media and news industry.  It’s a must.

LaMothe says in his article that sure, Facebook and Twitter could disappear, but he also says, “…But the ideas and the impact that the two sites have had on communications, customer service, and more, will just inhabit another site.”

Again, I would have to agree with LaMothe.  The technology and methods of these two sites have made a deep and everlasting mark on communications, and the news industry.  I don’t know of many high-profile reporters, commentators, news networks and shows that do not have a Twitter feed or a Facebook page, or some form of social media connected to them.  This kind of communication, and connectivity is here to stay, whatever package it comes in.

Social Media Replacing Journalism?

Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists ...

Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists Social Media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a fantastic post on Media Bistro’s blog, 10,000 WORDS by Meranda Watling.  “Infographic:  How Social Media Wins At Breaking News” speaks volumes of how news consumers get their breaking news and how much that has changed over the last decade.

Watling opens up by asking her readers to try and recall how they learned of the attack on Sept. 11.  She sums up by acknowledging that most people found out through television, contacted their relatives by phone, if possible, and then likely read the newspapers the next day and followed up with a weekly news magazine.  She points out, we didn’t hear of it through social media, like Facebook or Twitter because they weren’t invented at the time.

Watling continues to discuss how major news stories spread through social media, using the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other stories as examples.  Her article discusses the very real change that is taking place in the news industry with respect to the advancement of social media becoming one of the major sources of news for people.

Watling concludes her article with a graphic done by, that referenced a Pew Research Center study titled, “What Facebook and Twitter Mean For News.

I don’t think it comes as major surprise to those who already use social networking on regular basis.  The implications however, of social networks becoming a serious player in the news industry is something to consider carefully.  Especially, in an age of citizen journalism, when blogging and other forms of news dissemination is exploding on the frontlines of journalism.

Before you get too excited and think you can now depend on getting all of your information from sites like Facebook and Twitter, note in the graph where it states that 49.1% of people have at some point heard breaking news on social media that turned out to be false.

Ah, the new-age, old problem of citizen journalism.  Verification.  It’s wise to not believe everything you see or hear on these sites, but with a little digging, you can pretty quickly decipher the validity of the breaking news.  Watling touches on the issue of trust and verification of reporting in her blog post, but leaves it for another day.

On the website that displays this graphic, I don’t know that I would go so far as to agree with the notion that social media is replacing journalism.  I don’t think that’s the case.  I do think, the news industry is figuring out how to capitalize on social media sites, and while anyone can become a news producer these days, not everyone follows the guidelines and “rules” of traditional journalism.  So, social media is not quite there yet.  Could it be ten or twenty years from now?  I think that is a very real possibility.

The graphic below is the one produced by
Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of:

Rate My Amendment, How CISPA Attacks the Constitution

Jason Koebler wrote an article Thursday for US that discusses the dangers of the new Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Yes, bear with me as we explore yet another acronym from the government, CISPA.

In his article, Koebler says, “…Experts say the danger level associated with CISPA depends on the answer to one question: Which Constitution amendment do you care about more, the First or the Fourth?”.

The idea behind CISPA according to the article and the congressmen who sponsored the bill is, that this will allow corporations and companies to share user information with the government without penalty or threat from general citizens or in other words, without getting sued by their users. Now, the government says this information is completely voluntary and, the companies are not required to share data. They are encouraged to share data only if it pertains to cyber-security and national security with the hope of stopping attacks from outside sources trying to steal information and other similar threats. The makers of the bill say it’s a two-way street.

In his article Koebler quotes Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, “ The government can say ‘you want our secret sauce, give us all your data, if you play ball with us, we’ll play ball with you.’”

Dempsey also goes on to say in the article that once the bill, “CISPA removes the legal barriers, it becomes harder for companies to resist those inducements, which can lead them to do things they’re uncomfortable with.”

From what I can gather from the article by Koebler, and the statements from the congressmen and Dempsey, this bill is opening a two-way street of “non-required” sharing of private users information and in doing so, skirts the Fourth Amendment. This leaves every private citizen who uses the internet vulnerable to the governments smooth talking proposals to the companies and corporations like Facebook, Verizon, AT&T, Microsoft and others.

Well. Now if that doesn’t box your ears and leave them ringing, I don’t know what will. I’m sorry, could you repeat the question? Which Amendment do I care about more? Why should that be entertained? 

Recently our government, via the FBI, put out a Request For Information regarding software that could be used to find “danger” words in social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as on search engines.  Is this the beginning of the end of free speech on the Internet?  Is this a violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy?

I’ve had a few conversations on this subject.  One friend pointed out that just as driving is not a right it is a privilege, so is the Internet.  We don’t have a right to use it, we choose to use it.  In doing so, we are subject to terms of use, just as we are subject to traffic laws.  While this makes sense to me, I can’t help but think about a few counter arguments.

If you are pulled over by the police while driving, can they just search your vehicle because they feel like it?  I don’t think they can.  Can the police show up on your doorstep and search your house, your phone, your laptop or your refrigerator?  Nope.  Please correct me if I am wrong on any of this, but it was my understanding that without evident probable cause or a warrant, the government in any form is not allowed to search and seize a private citizen or their property.  I would think that this would include intellectual property, no?  I know that might be a stretch, but if we can  sue others in court over the ownership of intellectual property, then does it not become just as tangible as your car?

What do you think about this? Do you think the government is over-reaching?  Is this legislation something we should support in the name of national security?  Is it in violation of the Constitution?

The Fourth Amendment states the following:  


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Social Networks Bring Tragic Story to National Media

By now, most of you have heard of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.  The New York Times published an article by Brian Stelter on March 25, that discusses some of the story, but also why the story took weeks to gain national attention.  According to his article, Stelter maps out the progression of the growth of attention from the date the tragedy occurred, Feb. 26, to the time it finally achieved a national audience around March 16 and thereafter.

Stelter states, “It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman, 26, was widely reported by the national news media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.”

The article suggests that race may have played a role in how slowly the story spread, but also that social media, as quoted above, played an intricate role.  Stelter interviewed colleagues who recalled having followers on Twitter ask them what they were going to say about this story.  While it was picked up locally and state-wide within a week, it wasn’t until users of social media got a hold of it and spread the word, did the story gain the momentum needed to hit the national arena.

Folks, we live in an age where information is literally at our fingertips, available twenty-four-seven.  And yet, even during these times, stories like this, somehow fall through the media cracks.

It’s interesting that the power of social media and the internet is proving itself repeatedly, and in so many ways.  Wikileaks, the Arab Spring and now, the tragic end of a teenager’s life, which otherwise may have gone untold.

As journalists we are right to be mindful and skeptical of social media “news” and user-generated content.  It’s proper that we don’t take this information at face value without verification.  But there is one more aspect of this new media that we should never ignore:  that it is powered largely by the people.  The same people we want to inform.  The same people we have chosen to become sentinels for.  The same people who make up the democracy we try desperately to protect through our freedoms of speech.

In a sense, national media failed in these past few weeks, and it took action by average citizens to open the eyes of the watchdog.

You’re Hired! By The Way, Can We Have Your Facebook Password?

Jon Brodkin, wrote an article for ars technica today about employers asking potential new hires for their Facebook passwords and usernames.  It seems that while most of the reported circumstances involving this scenario took place two and three years ago, the action has gained new tread.

According to the article, two senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), have asked the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to make a ruling on whether the requests violate federal law.

According to the article by Brodkin, Facebook stated that they could take legal action against the various employers, but have no plans to do so at this time.

In another article written by Brodkin, he includes a quote from the Facebook company,

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” Facebook said. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”

Blumenthal,  is quoted by Brodkin saying these requests are an “unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

So my question is this:  Is this an unreasonable invasion of privacy?

By becoming a member of such social media sites, do you forfeit a certain amount of privacy?  If you are a Facebook user, and say you have 900 “friends”, and lets also say that you post daily life occurrences, personal opinions, photographs and the like, are you still technically, a completely private citizen?  Or have you now jumped into the public arena as some public figure, albeit on a small-scale.

The Sandra Fluke fiasco brought to light a few interesting media law questions.  She chose to take part in a public discussion in front of a mock committee of democratic members of Congress, camera’s rolled and Fluke offered her views and opinions on the topic to be forever part of public record.  Some argue that at that moment, her reasonable expectation of privacy lowered a great deal.

In the spirit of free speech, she has every right to express her views, as do Facebook users.  But, in doing so, it is possible that we are entering a new kind of public arena, opening ourselves to targeted criticism, and possible negative consequences and repercussions from things we say and post.

Is it different if you use the most private settings for your Facebook account?  If your account is completely and  unabashedly public, should that be taken into consideration?  Should these requests by employers be discussed on a case by case basis, depending on the level of privacy chosen by the social media user?

Is there anything wrong with potential employers asking for this information, to make sure that the candidate is the right choice for the company?

Employers do run credit checks on potential new hires, and background checks.  Is this any different just because the medium is different?  I’m not so sure it is.  I can see how both sides of this issue can be argued.  It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see what proposals for legislation manifest, and if this issue acquires new-found “legs”.