Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cyberbullying And Electronic Fingerprints

In my last post I discussed a very upsetting story in my town - South Hadley, Massachusetts. On January 14, fifteen year Phoebe Prince apparently committed suicide after being bullied - in school, after school and online. The cyberbullying has even continued after here death, most notably on Facebook. There's been a lot of traffic on that post - here's an update.

Last night there was a Selectboard meeting in South Hadley and people were given the opportunity to publicly comment as part of the meeting format. I did not attend tot meeting but watched the live feed on the town cable access channel. A number of parents got up and described how their children had been treated. Here's a short video clip from the meeting posted in a article

South Hadley selectboard meeting becomes a forum bullying discussion

I believe an entire meeting video recording will be posted soon on the South Hadley Community Television site. Also - here's a few quotes from that same article.

What people wanted to know in particular was what discipline has been handed down by South Hadley High School to the so-called “mean girls” believed to have bullied 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who was found dead at home of an apparent suicide on the afternoon of Jan. 14.

South Hadley High School principal Daniel T. Smith has his own investigation running parallel to the one by local police working with the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. So far, Smith has said two students were disciplined before Prince’s death and a third was disciplined stemming from an assault on another student after Prince died. School officials have refused to say what the discipline consisted of, citing legal and privacy rights of the students.

Prior to the start of the meeting, a female classmate of Prince said she is disturbed that the students believed to have bullied Prince are still in school. “I’m concerned about what is going to happen in this,” said the girl who declined to give her name. “I think they should get punished, and it should happen soon. Nothing really happened to them.

And, our police chief also spoke at the meeting. Here's a couple quotes from a WBZTV article:

Police Chief David Labrie says they have interviewed numerous people in their investigation. He says they are closer to the end of the case than the beginning.

"We've subpoenaed records from Facebook, we've subpoenaed web pages from Facebook, hoping to track down the perpetrators of some of these criminal threatening acts."

Without getting technical - this information is backed up and logged by providers like Facebook, Verizon and Comcast. All postings, text messages, tweets, etc are available and identified with either an Internet Protocol (IP) address or cell phone number of the posting source. With applications like Facebook there is even more - in addition to your IP address your username is also logged. Once you hit that Send/OK/Upload/etc button it's out there.

With the proper subpoenas authorities can access all of it - source identification, text, pictures, who posted what, when it was posted, when and if it got removed, what got removed, comments, etc, etc, etc.
It's all there - electronic fingerprints.


Anonymous said...

This incident is such a tragedy.

I read an article that pointed out that in a similar case in Michigan, the victim's own cell phone was used as evidence that convicted three of the people responsible for the bullying. I'd be surprised if that isn't the case here as well.

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of a proxy ?
Standard for hackers is to behind 5 layers of them.

Gordon F Snyder Jr said...

Good point - I considered including a piece about proxies in this post but left it out.
I've written in the past about hiding behind proxyies. Since this happened in the town I live in I've been watching reports closely.
I've read these kids were also texting from their personal cell phones. Figuring these kids were not using proxies if they were also doing this.
It does not appear effort was made to hide their identities.

WDGV said...

I am devastated by this story. I teach middle school math and have recently been made aware of the cyberbullying that has been going on at our school. Initially I learned that the cyberbullying was directed at specific staff. Through some self-reflection writing exercises I learned that some of my students had been cyberbullied as well. Since this was the first reported incident at our school, there wasn't a protocol to follow. The consequence for the cyberbullying was a stern lecture from two of the staff. I was shocked to hear from a parent of one of the cyberbullies that her son was "entitled to his opinion" and did not appear concerned at what her son was posting on Facebook.

I am all for technology and would love to be able to have my students interact via the computer on a project. Unfortunately, this ethical mess has made think twice about implementing this form of learning in (and out of) the classroom.

We have circled back to writing about good characteristics (integrity, kindness, responsibility, etc.) for the first few minutes in math class every few days. It has been a rough couple of weeks, but students are beginning to see that what is being posted (or written, or said) outside of math class was affecting what was happening in the classroom.

I ache for your community as well as my own.