Sunday, March 22, 2009

Web bullies cause real harm

There's an interesting op-ed column in today's Herald Journal and Deseret News, on the human costs of anonymous cyberbullying.

Mark Franek, a a member of Cabrini College's English department in Radnor, Pa., and former dean of students at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. writes for the Christian Science Monitor news service this week:

"Increasingly, online words and images are causing dismay and real damage for other people who never wanted to be in the public spotlight, much less one that's accessible 24/7.

Today, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can post defamatory statements to the Web. ... The First Amendment gives people without integrity on the Web tremendous power, too. We need to develop an awareness among Internet users of the importance of acting with honesty and in good faith.

I spent seven years as a dean of students at an independent school in Philadelphia. I've watched fights break out, friends break up, and parents appear at my door, in tears, all over some nonsense posted online about their child that they were virtually powerless to remove.

The harm isn't only to students. Franek notes: "Right now I am in the midst of an inane conflict with a webmaster of a high-traffic site who refuses to remove an offensive blog about me that is laden with epithets and defamatory statements. It was all fun and games until the content of the blog was brought up during a recent job interview."

A code of ethics is needed, he says. "The problem with the Internet is not that there are too many writers. It's that there aren't enough gatekeepers with integrity, and there is no clear and consistent way to resolve disputes."

What can be done about this problem that doesn't gut the First Amendment? Any and all ideas are welcome.

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