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Editorial: Cyberbullies get lesson from students, schools

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A recent incident in Franklin is a sad reminder that bullying has not disappeared from our schools, but there are positive signs at the same time.

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

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.

Unlike bullying in the past, the immediacy of a social networking site demonstrates the immediate and pervasive power and harm that can come from just a few words on the Internet.

The incidents have dominated conversations among students at Franklin’s middle school and high school during lunch and between classes, school officials said.

“That’s the conversation middle school kids want to have, and so they will be talking about this a lot,” middle school Principal Pamela Millikan said.

What took a second or two to post online has led school and police officials in Franklin to launch an investigation of who posted the insults anonymously.

But principals and police learned they have help with their probe.

At the high school, students emailed Principal Doug Harter, asking him to do whatever he could to find whoever uploaded the photos and wrote the comments. Some students offered screenshots they took of the photos in case those would help.

“It’s almost created a complete backlash against the perpetrator. It’s almost like people understand this is completely out of line,” Harter said.

Students who know how hurtful those photos could be eager to talk, the principals said.

“People’s feelings are involved here. That’s where the students say they don’t want people to be hurt,” Millikan said.

Millikan is considering inviting a speaker to the middle school to speak with students about the pros and cons of social media.

Teachers in Franklin as well as school districts across the state and nation have been using the Internet and online learning more with students, showing them how helpful it can be with research. Students also need to know how harmful it can be to anonymously attack someone online, Millikan said.

This most recent issue shows that cyberbullying remains an issue for schools, and education efforts to combat it need to continue. There must be an ongoing and consistent message to students that actions such as these are totally unacceptable.

But the reaction of many students shows that previous messages about cyberbullying have gotten through. The students recognize the hurtfulness of the postings and were eager to help in the follow-up.

The reaction of the students to this incident shows that this message is being heard and, more importantly, appreciated. That they were willing to speak out against it is a most encouraging sign.

Cyberbullying is just the last manifestation of a generations-old problem. Teachers and administrators need to keep repeating the message about bullying, but the student reaction to the latest actions show that they are listening.

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