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Cyber bullying continues despite tragedies

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In case you didn't get the memo, cyber bullying in any form is unacceptable. Not only is it immoral, but it is also illegal. In spite of the high-profile cases of teens taking their lives after being victims of cyber bullying, every other week, a case surfaces where a young person is being bullied online — and where a parent is having to deal with the fallout. And Charlotte is not immune to this new method of making teen life a living hell.

Take, for example, the case of a 14-year-old Charlotte teenager who is the victim of a "burn page." For those of you too busy actually parenting your children or minding your business, "burn pages" are specifically social networking pages set-up by teens to harass, humiliate and abuse, most often other teens. Amber Lee is the mother of the 14-year-old at the center of the most recent cyber bullying case. Some of her daughter's fellow students created a Facebook burn page featuring a photo and a sexually explicit comment about the girl. Lee, who found out about the page from her daughter, reported it to CMPD, which is now investigating the case. You would think if common decency and respect wouldn't prevent students from bullying students online, then the threat of jail time would. Not so much.

The perpetrators have clearly forgotten about the anti-bullying bill that was signed into law by Gov. Bev Purdue. The law surfaced to protect students in public schools who are harassed for reasons related to race, religion, disability and perceived sexual orientation. How sad is it that we have to legislate common decency in order to save the lives of our children?

While many of you know of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts girl who hung herself after being unbearably harassed at school and on Facebook, some have already forgotten the case of Kernersville, N.C., teen Ashley Rogers who hung herself one month later because of being harassed by fellow students. While her case didn't make big national headlines, it was equally as sad because the details surrounding her harassment were hauntingly similar to those experienced by Prince.

Two students had been sending Rogers harassing texts for at least a week — and from 10:30 p.m. on April 8 through 7:30 a.m. on April 9, the day she committed suicide. Why teenagers were up that late on a school night harassing a student instead of finishing up homework or getting much needed rest is beyond me. In this case, the kids were "talked to" by school officials who couldn't press charges because the texts were sent after school hours. Police investigated the case but no charges were brought. Those involved in the Phoebe Prince tragedy didn't fare so well. Nine students were indicted for various crimes including civil rights violations and criminal harassment.

One month after the Ashley Rogers suicide, students at Northwest School of the Arts reportedly posted so many inappropriate comments on their burn page that the school principal sent a recorded message to parents about the incident and contacted Facebook to have it removed. The page came down. While it is not clear whether it was Facebook that took down the page or if the parents of the student who started the page made him or her take it down, the fact that it came down is important.

Adults need to step in and step up to end cyber bullying. Parents, teachers, mentors, pastors and those in authority who interact with students need to take control of this issue since students are not. Some say it's a First Amendment issue and that you should be able to post things about people without fear of retribution. I would bet money that those who think that way are parents of bullies. FYI: That is not the purpose of the First Amendment. That's why you cannot run into a public space and yell "fire" when there isn't one — because of the threat to public safety. That principle applies to free speech even in the form of new media. You can't just say anything and not deal with the consequences, particularly when the public safety, which includes teenagers, is at risk. You can harass and bully people if you choose, but you may go to jail or push someone to the point where they will hurt you or themselves. All of that has negative consequences, so why even go there?


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