Anonymous 'confessions pages' used by Tucson students to bully, harass

Tucson High principal has site shut down; those for Rincon, Catalina still up
2013-02-06T00:00:00Z 2013-02-06T00:26:41Z Anonymous 'confessions pages' used by Tucson students to bully, harassAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For the second time in this month, Tucson High Magnet School officials have been able to shut down a Facebook page that allowed students to anonymously, and publicly, vilify classmates.

The "Tucson High Confessions 2" Facebook page, which was dominated by anti-gay remarks and sexually explicit commentary about specific students, made its debut Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon it already had nearly 300 "likes" before disappearing from the Facebook site. A mirror Twitter feed also was shut down.

Tucson High Principal Clarice Clash said she contacted Facebook and asked to have the site shut down. An earlier version of the page was in operation for at least 24 hours before it was removed on Monday.

Similar Facebook pages for Rincon and Catalina high schools went up on Sunday and Monday and remain active. Both are equally explicit as the Tucson High page.

Hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, the comments posted - presumably by students - are vicious, touching on the sexual preference, sexual habits, appearance and social worthiness of peers.

Clash was made aware of the page Monday by a teacher who reported it.

Arizona Daily Star efforts to contact the page administrator of the THS site were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Clash said an investigation is under way and could result in student discipline for bullying or harassment. A letter was sent home to Tucson High parents Tuesday, notifying them of the page's existence and encouraging intervention at home.

Rincon Principal Catherine Comstock learned about the confessions page Tuesday evening from the Star.

She plans to follow the same course of action taken by Clash - reporting the page to Facebook to have it taken down and notifying parents and school-safety officials.

"This is very upsetting and pretty destructive," Comstock said as she reviewed the page, which also had more than 300 "likes." "This is not what we support or anything we want to encourage. I'm very disappointed this is happening."

Catalina Magnet Principal Rex Scott could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Responsible social-media use is a topic that has been discussed with students and is addressed in the student code of conduct, Clash said. The Tucson Unified School District has filters in place on school computers, limiting access to social-media sites to select staff members, but that does not stop students from logging on with their own computers or cellphones.

TUSD Assistant Superintendent Abel Morado was alarmed upon learning about the pages.

"These things always make me nervous in terms of what people will get behind a computer screen and confess to," Morado said. "There are reputations on the line, and it has implications that send a chill through the community.

"How can someone defend themselves against what is said?"

Morado plans to reach out to high school principals to coordinate a response to this issue and ensure that it is addressed responsibly, he said.

In the Tucson High letter sent home to parents, Clash asks parents to advise their children not to participate on the page.

Sheri Bauman, a professor and the director of the school counseling master's degree program at the University of Arizona, agrees with that recommendation.

"The way these sites proliferate is by the buzz and public discussion and response," Bauman said. "If there is no audience, the people contributing to these sites have no incentive to continue spreading malicious gossip."

Confessions pages have been popping up on social media - a "U of A Confessions" page had 1,800-plus likes Tuesday.

The motivation behind confessions pages may be to allow people to unburden themselves, but that can easily be manipulated by someone wanting to reveal another person's errors or making up confessions to embarrass and humiliate, Bauman said.

"It's wide open for misuse in a way that can be very damaging," she said. "Adolescents are very much concerned with their social standing and status. Being defamed in a way that is extremely public may leave a student feeling as though their entire life has been ruined."

Bauman likens confession pages to slam books from 50 years ago, saying: "People have always found ways to insult each other. This is just much easier and so public that it makes it pernicious."

"There are reputations on the line, and it has implications that send a chill through the community."

Abel Morado, TUSD assistant superintendent

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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