FARMINGTON — The giggles of Mt. Blue Middle School seventh-graders who stood to indicate they were aware of rumors, lies, or hateful messages sent through e-mails or texts, some by those seeking revenge, turned to silence as they heard more about cyber-bullying Tuesday.
“It’s definitely happening in your school community,” Brandon Baldwin, Civil Rights Team member from the state Attorney General’s Office, said after a fairly large percentage of students rose to indicate their knowledge of postings aimed to hurt, bash and embarrass someone.
The presentation attempted to make the students stop and realize the seriousness of an action taken in silence and anonymity.
“Is this the school you want where any person could be the target of those behaviors?” he asked.
While no one does, he added, the Internet creates an easy way to do it. Without seeing the face of the victim, it’s easy to forget how cruel it can be. Hiding behind the invisibility and anonymity of a computer, a lot of people resort to anti-social behavior, doing things they wouldn’t normally do, he said.
Showing brief public service videos of young students saying terrible things to victims, Baldwin noted how it can make one cringe and feel uncomfortable. The smiles and laughs are gone, he said.
“It’s unimaginable to do those things. If you wouldn’t say it to a person, why say it online?” he asked. “Once online, you lose control of it. You can’t take it back,” he added.
A video interview of parents of a Missouri teen, Megan Meier, who took her life after a neighbor posed online as a boyfriend, brought the issue of cyber-bullying up for discussion just as the students involved in the Columbine school shootings in Colorado raised discussion on school violence, he said.
After watching scenes of her parents recounting their story, silence reigned over the gym. When the students were asked if they felt cyber-bullies contributed to her death, the majority indicated it did.
Now Massachusetts teens are facing potential charges after another teen suicide.
“We don’t seem to care until someone ends up dead,” he said.
He also warned the teens of the consequences of cyber-bullying. Even if done on a Saturday night from a home computer, in Maine students face hazing laws and schools are required to act.
In the past, police needed witnesses to pursue these cases, now they can check one’s computer making it easier to investigate.
He encouraged the students to take cyber-bullying seriously, to not participate, support the victim and report what happens to you or someone else. Print or save it and bring it to an adult, he said.
Baldwin was introduced to the students by Megan Brown and William Steele, who are involved in the school’s Civil Rights Team, a group dedicated to making sure people are treated equally and school is a safe environment for everyone.