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School district navigating a new age of harassment

Anonymous accounts across TTSD target and harass peers and faculty

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin High School seniors Paige Spalding, Christie Coder and Andrew Hashberger pretend to stuff classmate Lars Bates in a bucket as Maria Cooley documents the moment on a cellphone to post on social media. A note is passed across a classroom with two columns: one for names, one for numbers. It’s a list of girls in the class with ratings of one through 10 describing their appearances. Upon seeing the note, a girl confronts the perpetrators.

“A four?” she says. “I am so much higher than a four.” She knew who wrote it, confronted him and moved on. At the end of the day, only a handful of students knew.

This was the scene from high schools years ago — before social media existed, before it was at the tip of nearly every high school students’ fingers. Today, it’s more common to see a subjective tweet than a subjective note, and as many of the online accounts are anonymous, it is often difficult to trace who’s at the root of the issue.

It’s not a new problem, and has been occurring essentially since Twitter started being cool enough for teens to use. If you Google something along the lines of 'anonymous high school Twitters,' article after article will pop up explaining one harmful situation after the next. Though cyber bullying is not a new problem across the country or in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, it is a growing problem.

“I think the medium has made it a bigger problem, a much bigger problem, because it’s very accessible,” said Tualatin High School Associate Principal Greg Dinse. “In the old days, you said that girl was a b- - -h, and the vice principal would bring them all in. You’d apologize, make up. Now, it’s in writing and half the student body saw it, and that makes the victim feel a lot worse.”

Dinse said every one to two weeks, a student will come into his office to talk about what somebody said about him/her on social media. Often, it’s Twitter, but he’s also dealt with negative postings on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Once he knows a student has been targeted, the problem is figuring out the damage the situation has caused, and also if the school actually has any grounds to do something about it.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Christie Coder, Maria Cooley, Andrew Hashberger and Paige Spalding who are Tualatin High School seniors in the drama program, portray bullies reacting to a Twitter post that's gone viral of someone they know at school.

“From a school discipline standpoint, it really is hard. They have freedom of speech, unfortunately. Do they do it here at school? Well then, it’s pretty obvious I could get after them,” Dinse said. “But you know, a kid says something bad about another kid on Twitter at 1 o’clock in the morning, what’s my tie to it? They’re both students here at Tualatin High School. Well, so are 1,800 other students. So it’s really hard for me to definitively get involved in that.”

If Dinse is able to determine students who he thinks are at the bottom of any of these anonymous accounts, he brings them in and explains the situation. He asks them if they know what slander and libel are, and tells them they’re on the verge of being a harasser. He tells them what they’ve been posting has the potential to be a much bigger issue than simply hurting someone’s feelings.

“When I bring kids in, I try to do it more as an educational thing,” Dinse said. “’I want you to learn the mistake you’re making and correct it, rather than freak out about it. There’s no reason to freak out about it. So you did something stupid? I’ll shut it down. That sounds pretty good.’”

Sometimes, Dinse doesn’t even need to get involved for the anonymous accounts to get shut down. One account, @ttsdrates, popped up earlier this month, but appears to have been shut down due to a complaint.

“My experience with Twitter, and several other sites, is they are responsive to complaints regarding these types of negative sites,” Dinse said. “If there are enough complaints, they investigate and will frequently take down the site or delete negative comments.”

The now obsolete account rated students on looks and personality, with brief explanations as to why the ratings were what they were. Other anonymous accounts still in operation, such as @TTSDSmack2, @tualatinsmack and @ttsdstarterpack will call students out on things they’ve supposedly done, sometimes seemingly trying to be funny, other times not at all.

“I think that the accounts exist primarily because the person running them knows it will get a reaction out of people, which they may find amusing. Also, they do it to people they don’t like so they can hurt them and feel better about themselves,” said Julia Butts, a freshman Associated Student Body officer at TuHS. “They expose secrets or flaws, and then everyone who has a social media (account) will know about it, which leads to it spreading and drama.”

It’s when the targeted students find out about it and drama ensues that Dinse tends to find out about a cyber-bullying incident. Whether or not he’s able to do anything about it isn’t an issue as much as the reality that such problems will continue until something else comes along.

“Will kids mature earlier and faster in learning how to use this? I think there will be some of that. I mean, we bring it up to kids all the time,” Dinse said. “The problem with high school kids is that every year we have a new bubble. You know what I mean? It changes. I just don’t know. It always amazes me because kids do these things over and over and over again. Really, there’s always been conflict. There’s always been rumors. There’s always been drama. The Internet gives us all a vehicle to make it easier to be dramatic and catch a greater audience.”

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