On Thursday, Attorney General Doug Gansler announced a new initiative, in partnership with Facebook, providing educators with a direct way to address online bullying that may occur in their school systems.
Facebook outlined the first-in-the-nation pilot project on Thursday morning to school superintendents and legal counsel attending the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) fall conference.
“Too often, we read headlines about cyberbullying that inflicts serious emotional trauma on children, or worse yet, ends in tragedy,” said Gansler. “We can no longer brush off these episodes and we must reject a ‘kids will be kids’ mentality that ignores how to confront this troubling trend. I commend Facebook for working with us to give educators a more streamlined way to report possible instances of cyberbullying among their students.”
“Facebook continues to look for ways to help parents, teens and educators better understand the safety features build into our service,” said Facebook Safety Team Member Brooke Oberwetter Coon. “We thank Attorney General Gansler for his national leadership on the issue of online safety and for working with us to create this pilot program in Maryland.”
The launch of the Facebook initiative coincides with the start of National Bullying Prevention Month. It also comes just two days after legislation took effect in Maryland that cracks down on teen cyberbullying. Grace’s Law, named after 15-year-old Grace McComas, a Howard County teen who committed suicide in April 2012 after constant online harassment, makes bullying a minor on social media sites a misdemeanor offense. That law is an extension of legislation passed in 2012 and spearheaded by Attorney General Gansler that broadened the crime of email harassment to include other forms of electronic communication, including text messaging and social media.
Nearly one-third of all schoolchildren, or almost 13 million students, are bullied each year, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center. One million children experienced cyberbullying on Facebook in 2011, according to a Consumer Reports survey.
“Public school superintendents are pleased and appreciative of any effort to educate our young people on the proper use of social media and to combat those who willfully intend to harm and defame students attending our schools,” said Carl D. Roberts, executive director of the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland. “We are appreciative of the efforts of Attorney General Gansler and those at Facebook for their efforts on this critical matter.”
Under the new measure, each school system will identify a single point person responsible for direct communications with Facebook. All educators are urged to first report questionable or prohibited content through the standard reporting mechanism. If the issue is not resolved within 24 hours, educators should contact their school system’s designated point person to accelerate the report through the Educator Escalation Channel.
Users should visit the Facebook Safety Center for more information.