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E-bullying: Franklin police, schools probe online posts

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Illustration for a story on a Franklin teen who started a
Illustration for a story on a Franklin teen who started a "burn book" on Instagram. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

At least seven Franklin students were targets of cyberbullying, and police and school officials are investigating who posted the derogatory comments about them.

Pictures of the students were put on the social networking site Instagram, which lets users edit and post photos along with captions. A comment referred to one of the student’s physical appearance; another demeaned a student for his accomplishments as an athlete.

Another post accused a student of self-cutting, while another told a student to burn in hell, according to Franklin Community High School Principal Doug Harter and Franklin Police Department Detective Scott Carter.

Superintendent David Clendening said the postings were similar to the concept of “burn books,” made popular in the movie “Mean Girls.” Teens, usually anonymously, post derogatory, rude or angry insults about classmates or others. With Instagram, the user was able to post them anonymously, Clendening said.


At least seven middle and high school students from Franklin had their photos posted on the social networking site Instagram along with derogatory comments. Here’s a closer look at the case:

What is Instagram?

A social networking site where users can upload, edit and post photos with captions

What’s a burn book?

These are periodically shown in teen movies and are used to post hateful and angry messages about people.

Harassment law

The Franklin Police Department is investigating whether Indiana’s harassment law was violated.

An obscene message is defined as intending to alarm or annoy someone, without any legitimate purpose. This applies to computer networks and electronic communication.

Potential punishment can be up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Harter and Franklin administrators received emails from students and parents about the posts Sunday night and Monday morning, and at least two of the students whose photos were posted online missed school this week.

The students knew that everyone in the hallways, in their classrooms and at their lunch tables saw or heard what had been said about them, and returning to school so soon was too much pressure.

At least one of those students was back in class Wednesday, Harter said.

Franklin school officials have been interviewing students at the high school and middle school to find out who posted the photos. Clendening said the school district is getting close to finding who posted the pictures and the comments, and any students involved could be expelled.

“There’s no place in school, or in society in my opinion, where this should be happening. And we’re going to deal with it,” Clendening said.

Franklin schools asked the police department to investigate the postings because of how hateful the comments were and to verify whether any laws were broken, Clendening said.

Indiana has no cyberbullying laws, but whoever posted the photos and captions could have violated Indiana’s harassment law, Carter said.

Breaking the harassment law can include using a computer network, email, text or social media to harass or annoy someone without any legitimate purpose. And unlike the state’s intimidation law, where a threat is needed, obscenities and profanity can qualify as harassment, according to Carter and Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper.

Anyone convicted of violating the law, which is a misdemeanor, could face up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, Cooper said.

“We do not want these type of messages getting out and going unpunished. We want to prevent anything like this from happening in Franklin,” Carter said.

Franklin police asked Instagram for information behind the post and to take down the pictures, which had been removed by Wednesday morning, Carter said.

Neither Instagram nor Facebook, which owns Instagram, could be reached for comment.

Principals and administrators have followed up on every suspicion and rumor they’ve heard from students about the photos, and the most difficult part of the investigation is determining what’s fact and what’s rumor, Harter and middle school Principal Pamela Millikan said.

At both schools, though, most students have told principals they were shocked by the uploaded photos and wanted to find whoever uploaded them.

“A lot of our students are wanting to be very helpful in the investigation,” Harter said.

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