Cyberbullies use bogus Facebook pages to target victims

Jan. 19, 2013 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 19, 2013 at 7:20 p.m.

Shocking accusations on Facebook are outraging students, parents and school officials.

A friend recently informed a 16-year-old Victoria student, who asked to remain unnamed to prevent further bullying, about the malicious posts made about her on a Facebook page.

The attackers accused her of having sex with a relative.

"I was shocked because I didn't know about it," the student said. "I was like, 'Really, you took the time out of your day to do this?'"

But she wasn't the only one being "slammed" on Facebook. A slew of other female classmates were being accused of having sexually transmitted diseases because they slept around.

Her Facebook cyberbullying ordeal is among the first to surface in Victoria. The new form of bullying is conducted though multiple Facebook tags on pages and individual accounts, similar to burn books of old. Essentially, people are creating bogus Facebook pages for the purpose of bullying others and keeping their identities unknown. After the page is removed, the bullies return under a new profile and resume harassing their victims.

"These profiles should be shut down," the student said. "Most girls have been seriously affected by this stuff."

A recent study presented at the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics conference identified 41 suicide cases - 24 girls, 17 boys, between the ages 13 to 18 - related to cyberbullying from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The study by Dr. John C. LeBlanc found that 24 percent of the teens were the victims of homophobic bullying.

Several Victoria residents have said they hope the trend of suicides triggered by cyberbullying doesn't reach into their homes or community.

Former Victoria resident Michael Ramirez, 24, who now lives in New York, started urging his friends on Facebook to report the libelous pages so they can be dismantled.

A Facebook spokeswoman wrote that all Facebook pages reported for cyberbullying are permanently shut down.

"I can understand how awful these kids must feel," Ramirez said. "The things they say, 'So-and-so slept with this person, and they have this disease, and someone else has two babies, and they're a bad mom.'"

The psychological effects of cyberbullying are different from the repercussions of in-person bullying, wrote Dr. Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center.

"Generally speaking, students rate incidents that involve cyberbullying as more upsetting," Englander said.

Tracy Montez, a Victoria resident, said she's frustrated about the lack of attention given to area cyberbullies by law enforcement.

"I know one of the mothers of the children on (the Facebook pages) has sought legal action, but she's been told by authorities they can't do anything because they are minors," Montez said.

Her daughter's friend has had sugar poured into her gas tank, key marks etched on her car "and she's been jumped in a public place by a group of girls. Now, these are the same girls blasting others on the website, and not one thing has been done," Montez said.

Victoria school district spokeswoman Diane Boyett said campus principals are aware of cyberbullying problems, but because so much of it happens off-campus, there's not much the district can do.

Texas House Bill 1942 includes electronic expression as part of its definition of bullying but only if it occurs on school property.

Bullying activity outside the learning environment is not covered in the bill, whereas in 10 other states, off-campus activity is included.

Also, no criminal sanctions for bullies are included in Texas law.

As a result, students victimized by cyberbullying are left to stand up on their own.

"Y'all aren't going to make me cry. They aren't going to make me feel hurt," said the 16-year-old VISD student. "Basically, emotionally, I don't care what they say about me. I don't back down for nobody."



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