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Liberty Ranch Facebook page raises concerns about cyberbullying

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Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 5:54 am, Wed Mar 9, 2011.

A Facebook page has drawn concern because it publicly disparages and insults Liberty Ranch High School students who are named on the site.

The site includes crude remarks about students’ appearance, ethnicity and sexuality.

Although the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has reportedly been contacted about harassment, the Facebook page was online as recently as Monday night.

The page was created Feb. 23, less than a month after Liberty Ranch and the Galt Police Department co-hosted a community forum on bullying. The creator claims to be female and a 1990 Liberty Ranch High School graduate, which is impossible since the campus just opened last school year and has yet to have a graduating class.

At last count, the user has 232 friends, or people who have asked to stay connected to the page and receive regular live streaming updates. A quick check of those friends whose pages are public shows many attend either Liberty Ranch or Galt high schools. Some are cheerleaders, others participate in track and field or play soccer. Some claim to be Galt High alumni.

School administrators are frustrated. They can’t do anything regarding the person posting the comments because they do not have a first or last name, and some of those involved do not attend school there.

“If anything like this creates an issue at school, we have the right to discipline (students) for what they’re posting” Principal Brian Deis said. “The problem is this person is not using their real name. They’re hiding behind the name ‘Liberty Ranch burnpage’ and their profile picture is the words ‘I love haters.’ We’re going to continue to search for who that person is. We’re doing everything in our power to make it stop.”

One click on the page, and it’s clear this isn’t a positive place to be on Facebook.

There are posts calling one student’s mom fat, and another student a lesbian with AIDS. Others crudely label some girls as prostitutes and make derogatory comments about their anatomy.

But is the burnpage illegal?

Cyberbullying is defined as electronic communications that involve sexual harassment, a hate crime or creation of an intimidating or hostile educational environment.

And a spokesperson for www.stopcyberbullying.org said any reference to a student’s sexual orientation can be a crime.

A harassment report was filed with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office by a former Liberty Ranch student targeted on the Facebook page, according to Deis.

The Galt Police Department, too, said a report had been made with the sheriff’s department since Liberty Ranch is located outside city limits. A sheriff spokesman did not return a phone call.

Deis, however, has not contacted law enforcement himself because he has no proof who is conducting the harassment. Instead, he’s dealing with the issue himself.

“If I feel a student is crossing the line, I have called them in and spoken to their parents” he said.

One of the burnpage posters who was called into Deis’ office and whose parent was contacted has since removed the burnpage as his friend, according to Deis.

“I have encouraged them not to be involved, but I can’t tell them not to post” he said, adding that some of the targets have spoken to school counselors.

All told, he has spent 20-plus hours investigating it, including doing his own research into who the creator is by talking to involved students about the page.

“I even went so far as to e-mail the Cordova High School principal because one of the students posting attends there,” Deis said. About that time — on Feb. 24 — the burnpage posts stopped, but not before the page’s creator publicly wrote that the police were at the house. Six days passed before another post.

Deis has kept near-constant watch on the site, noting students’ names and times posts to ensure they are not during school hours.

Even as recent as Monday, he called in students warning them of their involvement and that while they’re not the ones doing the harassment, there could still be legal repercussions.

“It could be determined that they’re participating in cyberbullying and that could result in consequences here at school” Deis said.

Liberty Ranch student Christopher McCoy said he had not seen the page and doesn’t plan on looking it up. He is, however, aware of the types of comments posted about his peers.

“Obviously that’s very messed up by the person who put the burnpage up” he said, adding that his friends told him about it and asked if he had seen it. “I haven’t even considered going to look at it. It’s not worth giving into the attention that person wants.”

Deis said he feels strongly that the page’s creator does not attend Liberty Ranch, although he has no proof. He has, however, determined that most of the students actually doing the posting do not attend his school.

“The perception that this is a Liberty Ranch problem ... yes, our students may be involved, but there’s no evidence the person is a Liberty Ranch student. We’ve done a whole lot of things to try to put it to bed,” he said.

Among those things is reporting is to Facebook. Not only has he done that, but he knows of close to two dozen who have claim they’ve done the same thing.

Facebook cannot comment on specific pages or profiles, according to representative Nicky Jackson Colaco.

The organization’s statement of rights and responsibilities prohibits posting content that bullies or harasses.

“We maintain a robust reporting infrastructure that leverages the 500 million people who use our site to keep an eye out for offensive or potentially dangerous content,” Colaco wrote in an e-mail.

This includes reporting links on pages across the Facebook site.

A trained team of reviewers will respond to reports and escalate them to law enforcement as needed, she said, adding that this team treats reports of harassing messages and impostor profiles as a priority. Some of users have come to the defense of students insulted on the site and someone has created a Liberty Ranch “Peace Page” on Facebook as an apparent alternative. The creator of the “Peace Page” makes it clear that anything rude will be deleted.

The current Liberty Ranch student who created the alternative page, and who asked to remain anonymous, said the page was created in response to the burnpage, “which puts up horrible things about students at my school.”

“So far I’ve gotten great responses. People like it, and even people outside my school really like it” they said.

District Superintendent Daisy Lee recently attended a full-day workshop on education issues created by technology in the 21st century. She plans to share what she learned with cabinet members at their next meeting to ensure administrators know how to handle similar issues or get help when needed.

“The law is trying to catch up with issues related to cyberbullying,” she said in an e-mail.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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