Student to Student
When I first heard about @UtahConfessions from a friend, all I knew was that it was funny and easily accessible. I spent the next half-hour browsing the Twitter account, a collection of confessions from high-schoolers across Utah about their mischief and misdeeds. Looking over the tweets was initially amusing but I felt myself becoming more and more uncomfortable as I noticed an alarming number of Park City "confessions" that weren’t confessions at all so much as snide comments aimed at singling out and putting down individuals.
Cyberspace has become a platform where teens broadcast their innermost feeling aloud. While social media provides a great way for teens to stay in touch and document their lives, it has also become a spot for social tension made worse by various forms of cyberbullying.
According to PCHS resource officer Corey Allinson, "We’re seeing less face-to-face bullying where somebody’s shoving you into a locker and stealing your lunch money. It’s more cyberbullying because there’s no accountability, but there’s also a lot more of an audience."
Samantha Walsh, the intervention counselor at Park City High School, has also become concerned with issues related to Twitter, ask.fm and other similar sites where students can post anonymously about themselves and others.
Says Walsh, "Some of the things that I’ve heard from students is they’re sharing their innermost personal stories and dilemmas, and other students are telling them that they’re losers, or that they should kill themselves, and they’re no good. I actually have had students that were feeling suicidal put those feelings out there on social media, and people were encouraging them to take their lives. If someone takes their life that’s a forever change, we can’t take that back."
Comments on social media can hurt, whether they are intended to or not. Just ask Mara Williams, a PCHS junior that deleted her Twitter account after she became tired of what she was seeing.
"I just noticed that people were more comfortable saying rude things about me than they would be in real life. (Their comments were) truly hurtful but they didn’t realize it because they found this facade hiding under a screen name," she said.
Beyond cruel remarks, the high school has seen recent examples of students creating anonymous Twitter accounts with the sole intention of inventing and spreading rumors about their peers. "I think that that’s really just so damaging to people’s reputations. When people have rumors spread about them it affects their self esteem, their confidence and their desire to want to be at school," Walsh said.
Cyberbullying doesn’t just hurt its victims, it can land perpetuators in hot water with the law. According to Allinson, using technology to harass others is a class B misdemeanor. "(When something is written or recorded) if the context of the conversation creates an alarm, a nuisance, anything of a threatening nature, anything that’s vulgar, it fits a criminal code for telephone harassment. So it’s bullying, yes, but it’s also a crime."
Although Utah Confessions has since disappeared from the Internet, it was not the first of its kind nor will it be the last. With complete freedom of the Internet comes a whole new kind of responsibility and we must take it upon ourselves to decide what is funny and what is hurtful before we post it. After all, once something is on the Internet, it is there forever.
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A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.