Magazine article Momentum

The Dark Side of BLOGGING

Magazine article Momentum

The Dark Side of BLOGGING

Article excerpt

Blogging may be an avenue for people to share their stories, but it also has become a powerful and invasive weapon providing bullies and stalkers the opportunity to follow victims into their homes

Every magazine today seems to broadcast the wonders of the blog site. Blog sites like MySpace offer students a place to post pictures, personal thoughts, and respond to the postings of others. These "new age" journals are touted by many as wonderful ways for students to communicate and share with friends and family. If history has taught us anything, it is that new and exciting technologies usually come with a price, and blogging is no different. Blogging may be an avenue for people to share their stories, but it also has become a powerful and invasive weapon providing bullies and stalkers the opportunity to follow victims into their homes.

This side of the Internet became a reality for one California elementary school. The staff at the school strives to educate students in a safe and nurturing environment. Much time and effort is spent forming a learning community where students feel secure and comfortable. Whether in their classrooms or on the playground, in the assembly hall or on the Internet, students are supervised and appropriate behavior is expected.

Appropriate Internet behaviors are delineated in a technology use policy that all families sign at the beginning of each year, and teachers review these expectations in class to make sure students understand. In reality, students do abide by these regulations at school, but what happens when students leave our school and go home?

It is every educator's goal that skills and behaviors learned at school will become part of a student's behavior in life. As Catholic school educators, we stress with our students that acting out our faith is a 24-hour endeavor, not something just required on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., or as long as a student wears a uniform. However, there are times when we learn that our efforts are not positively influencing some after-school behavior as well as we would like. Such was the case in the fall of 2003, when we discovered that several seventh-grade students had posted highly inappropriate comments about some classmates on a blog site.

Alarming Behavior

In our initial investigation of the few students involved, we uncovered some alarming behavior: Students had made threats against each other and had posted identifying information on the World Wide Web. In order to better understand all our students, we began researching their behavior in the world of blogs.

Much of what we discovered was innocent communication. However, we also discovered foul language, suggestive pictures, more identifying information and evidence of harassment, all posted on sites frequented by many of our seventh- and eighth-grade students. Some students had listed their names, birthdates, names of cities and local landmarks, the school's name, teachers' names, itineraries (such as shopping malls) and the names of friends they were meeting. Students had posted harassing messages and threats to other students, often anonymously or with an assumed identity.

Activity on the blog sites exploded after a school dance. Although much of the information posted seemed innocent, with discussions concerning who liked whom and a blow-by-blow description of dance activities, personal information was posted for negative purposes. This message remained publicly posted for a prolonged period, causing several students embarrassment and creating animosity toward their classmates. The time-and-date stamps of the postings established that all comments were posted outside of school. However, the fallout spilled over into our classrooms, and we inherited the results.

Throughout the process, we agonized over how such ordinarily respectful and tolerant children from faith-filled and supportive families could behave so meanly and recklessly on the Internet. …

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