Teens cannot assume any of their online or cell phone activity will remain private. One of the most common problems occurs when someone shares a photograph or other private information through texting or social media and expects complete privacy. Too often, either accidentally or on purpose, it spreads beyond the recipient or group of friends.
Theoretically, students only interact with “friends” and can set certain privacy controls. But all it takes is one friend to share a photo or a post via Facebook or Instagram with someone else, and it can end up spreading. Similarly, a teen can set up a private Twitter account; restricting access to those he or she accepts as followers. But a follower can quote any of the teen’s tweets or take a screenshot and publicly share it.
Additionally, teens with a public Twitter account might assume that only their followers are seeing their tweets. But any post can be found in public Twitter searches or by accessing profile pages.
Educators, students and parents should never assume they can remain anonymous online. A large percentage of cases our attorneys handle involve another party harming our client anonymously, without using the party’s name or other identifying information. Almost every time, a person’s true identity can be tracked.
Whether it is by creating an impostor Facebook account or sending a text message to someone that does not recognize a number, there are several legal techniques that can be used to reveal “anonymous” identities.
In the most extreme examples, harassment among students can lead to suicide. In 2008, a student in my hometown of Cincinnati hung herself after her ex-boyfriend shared her nude photos with other students. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident; bullying has led many students to take their own lives.
Smart phones have changed how teens torment their classmates – whether it is through sharing “private” photos or videos, name-calling and other mean-spirited text messages, or posting embarrassing content online. Cyberbullying also includes the above-mentioned impostor accounts or sharing photos manipulated in humiliating or obscene ways.
Although most teens are unaware of the consequences, legislation and litigation regarding cyberbullying is on the rise.
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