“It is important to understand that use of social media to mock, bully, ‘call out’, embarrass students and/or impact the daily learning environment will result in consequences as laid out in the GRPS student handbook.”
So say the warnings we’ve all seen around the school in the last few weeks, from core advisory handouts to the afternoon announcements. And they get the message across, the meaning is there, but they’re a bit abstract. We wanted to know, and wanted you to know, what it really feels like to be the target of a social media post that digs into your personal life, so we talked to someone who’s felt it first hand: a victim of an anonymous “rumors” account on Instagram.
Q. What was your experience with the post made?
A. I didn’t really care what the page said about me, because I knew it was false. But it made me upset when they brought people I care about a lot into it and made them question their friendship with me. It all worked out, and it’s all good now, but I don’t want that to happen again. [The post] happened in 2nd period, and when I was walking to my 4th period class, so many people just stared at me and I couldn’t help but [wonder] if they thought the post was true. All I felt was that they were judging me for something that wasn’t true.
I made it to my class and I talked to my teacher (Mr. Travis) about it, because he was the only adult in the room I would actually talk about this stuff to, and he took me to the main office to talk about it. We had a history test that day in that class and Mr. Travis let me take it the next day, which I’m so grateful he did. This account affected my friendships, people’s impressions of me, and my education environment, and I don’t want anyone to go through what I did because it’s not fair for people to go through something this crucial even though they did absolutely nothing wrong.
Q. What is your view/opinion on the usage of social media to mock, criticize, bully, or gossip about other students?
A. I hate it. There’s no good reason to like it. Gossiping or bullying does no good for those people who do it. People who do are just jealous of whoever they’re talking about and it makes me sick.
The post referred to in this circumstance was made on November 22, 2021, and taken down a few hours later. It was reported to trusted adults, and the account was reported on Instagram by several people.
We also interviewed Mrs. VanderVliet, our Assistant Principal here at City, about how the school works to protect students from these accounts, and to see what she thinks about social media usage.
Q: What is the school doing to address the growing problem that is social media targeting?
A: It’s really interesting that you ask that, because if we rewound probably 5 to 10 years, the handbook [would have] stated that social media outside of the school was not to be dealt with in school. However, anything that impacts the learning environment, whether done in or outside of school, now becomes the school’s responsibility. So when we see social media accounts pop up and they impact our educational environment, that’s when we do our best to address all of them. So our first plan of action would be to try and identify who’s running the account and then to get it shut down as quickly as possible. If we can identify [the perpetrator], then we go to the student handbook and allow it to guide whatever consequences are laid out and then go from there.
Q: Is it necessarily the school’s job to intervene, or when does it become the school’s job to intervene?
A: So as I said before, if we look back probably about 10 years, most of that stuff we didn’t handle if students were posting outside of school and if they weren’t using school devices it wasn’t really something we handled. However, now [if somebody’s talked about online that] tends to impact the instructional day, and is our responsibility. Also, if [the account] is using the school’s name …or the logo or CHMS, then they’re falsely representing who runs the account by saying [it’s] a City account or a CHMS account. All of those reasons [make it something] the school deals with.
Q: Where does the school draw the line between friends being friends and wrongful social media use?
A: What I’ve mostly been talking about here are [fake accounts, or profiles [that] misrepresent who’s running [them], or Anonymous accounts], not somebody’s personal account. When it comes to social media, say Sam [if] you post on yours about Micaiah … that’s when I might call you both into my office and say let’s talk this out … you posted something, it’s impacting her school day, can we work it out? Or if the post is more serious it may lead us right to the handbook.
We are not finding a lot of instances where people are posting stuff on their accounts and claiming ownership for it. Most of the stuff I’ve dealt with throughout the school year has all been on fake accounts, fake profiles.
Q: What are the consequences of social media use against others?
A: Whether it’s brought to our attention or we stumble upon it, our first step is just simply look into what the account is posting. Is it harmless fun or something malicious? We then typically message the account to let them know that administration and security have seen the account, that they’re either misrepresenting themselves or they’re doing something that we don’t deem as appropriate.
We’re asking them to shut down the account, and we just [direct] message [them] on Instagram. That’s our first attempt. Now if somebody doesn’t respond, or they don’t respond well, that’s when it launches into the investigation, which if we can avoid we will. [It] takes a lot of our time and takes students’ time, and it’s just easier … if we can get it done [without] a whole investigation.
Q: If you had to guess why people use social media or feel the need to target other students, what would it be?
A: Everyone has phones at their fingertips, and [when] people feel frustrated or hurt … they want to share their opinions and feelings. And they can do that very easily via social media. Students can put whatever they want out there for people to see and do something, that’s a lot of [validation]. You know there are a lot of influencers out there that work to get followers, so there’s got to be some sort of feeling of glory when you get those kinds of followers. So for someone to create an account and then get people to follow that account, that’s probably making them feel justified in what they’re doing, but unfortunately what they’re not seeing are the repercussions of what they’re posting — how it impacts other people, how [it could] impact families, [because] parents see posts about their kids.
I mean it’s truly a community thing, and it reflects badly on our students and school especially because anyone can search City High or CHMS and see the kind of behavior that’s coming from our building. Social media doesn’t have to be a bad thing either. I mean hey, I like social media because I like to see people that I went to school with [and] what they’re doing and pictures of their families, but unfortunately that’s not what everyone uses it for. I truly think the ease of access makes [it] enticing to try and use it for other reasons, especially if you think you can stay anonymous, you know? Accounts that we have seen can be extremely hurtful, and I really feel it’s more about educating students about the long term impacts of putting things about others online, not only for the people being talked about, but also the students posting.
Q: What are your views/opinions on the usage of social media to mock, criticize, bully, or gossip about students at school?
A: I’m going to tell you that when I went into administration I couldn’t imagine that social media would take up so much of my time. As an adult, in my personal life, I absolutely enjoy it, but when it comes to being a building administrator I honestly wish it didn’t exist. It takes up too much time [and] I’ve seen it hurt too many students. I can’t stand social media anymore when it comes to thinking about [whether] students [are] in a safe spot and feeling respected, building friendships, because it breaks trust.
Students don’t necessarily know who these Anonymous accounts are run by, and [that] just changes the whole culture of a place. I feel City has always been an open and accepting community, and I think sometimes things like [this] make us question who [we] are in this community with. So I think it’s important for all students to reflect on what they’re doing in regards to social media. We can facilitate healthy conversations in person without needing anonymous accounts to speak our minds and harass other people. I truly believe our students are capable of doing that.
Q: Who do students usually talk to, and what happens when they know something or have a problem?
A: Kids typically find an adult that they feel comfortable with. A lot of students come right to me, they know that I’m one of the people that checks my email probably way more often than I should, so I get emails at all hours of the night and all weekend long. Some people will go to their counselors, which then comes to me, or they’ll go to another adult, which also then comes to me. But it’s really about finding an adult [they’re] comfortable with.
So … I’ve built a lot of relationships with students because they end up here after a situation. But [for] other things that they see that they want to report anonymously, we’ve just started the blue box downstairs by the counseling office, or I have a mailbox outside my door, that silver one right on the wall. So if somebody has information that they anonymously want to [give to] somebody but they didn’t want to be involved, they can drop a note in either one of those, and we’ve been checking those daily.
Q: What should a student do if they have information, or know people or friends, but they are worried about what will happen to them?
A: So, you have to take the necessary steps to ensure everyone is safe, always. If you don’t think it’s a safety concern but you’re worried about your friend’s well-being or anything like that, I would say to talk to the friend and try and convince them to seek out a trusted adult. A lot of times we have people that come to us who were convinced by their friends to come forward to share what they were feeling. It’s really important to have a supportive group of people, but if you had a friend that was feeling a certain way and you don’t want to break their confidence, the first step would be to try and convince them to come forward, but yes you could also use those anonymous boxes if you wanted to share something.
Q: What do you want to say to the students posting hurtful things and creating fake accounts?
A: Just to stop and think about what they’re doing. I mean we have a great community here at City, and we have a lot of outlets where if people want to share their feelings or they want to have discussions we can facilitate them in a safe way, but these anonymous accounts are hurtful. And again I think we’ve all heard it before, [but] anything you put on the internet [never truly goes away], even if you delete it. And some of these things, depending on how serious they get, they go beyond the school. So depending on what is posted I can only handle so much in house, if it turns to things like threats or personal information, at some point that’s beyond me as an Assistant Principal. So I just really want students to think about what they’re putting out there and how that could impact them as the poster, as well as whoever they may be posting about.
We do not live in a perfect world, and the only person you can control is you. So if you are in a place where you feel a need to spread hate or rumors about someone virtually or in person, stop, and think about what you are doing. If you know anything about these fake accounts, or websites, please let somebody know, or drop a note in the blue box by the counseling office.