"Faking It" is taking on new meaning in the age of social media. Social media is often used as a vehicle to make fun of certain people or criticize them. The Fake Steve Jobs blog, from several years ago, is a good example of this. Obvious parodies will probably always be a recognized form of humor and sarcasm, but when the "faking it" part isn't overt, problems start.
Lately, the number of students being bullied online by those who have created fake Facebook profiles has been growing leaps and bounds nationwide. For those who are the target of such maliciousness, it is no laughing matter. Police say, in some cases, students as young as 11 and 12 are creating fake profiles in which they claim to be 13 -- the minimum age required for a Facebook profile -- to bully other students online. Officers say the online problem, which has led to in-person fights in schools, is difficult to track, making it hard to discipline the students and that out-of-date laws make it hard for them to pursue and punish perpetrators. Police walk a fine line in respecting kids' First Amendment rights to express themselves on social media outside of school, while dealing with problems that result.
To combat digital impersonation, three states, including California and Texas, have passed laws making e-personation a crime. The California law defines the act as, "knowingly and without consent credibly impersonating another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person." In Texas the act is a felony, and it will be interesting to see if once the word gets around that possible criminal charges might result from such actions whether kids will re-evaluate taking such an approach in these states. Other states are evaluating passing similar laws.
So what do parents need to know?
- Even done in jest (and kids are infamous for doing this kind of thing when it comes to teachers or administrators they are not fond of) this kind of e -personation is not being seen as a "joke" anymore. Best chance of not getting in trouble for creating such as site is to use the word "fake" over and over again, but bottom line, no one thinks this kind of "teasing" is funny anymore. The police are bringing people up on charges of harassment, stalking and criminal defamation.
- Don't look to your school for help. Schools these days are telling parents that if the material was uploaded off campus, there is nothing they can do about it. If it results in a fight at school, they may get involved, but the actual cause of the problem may be seen as out of their jurisdiction.
- How can you report a fake Facebook page? Take a look at the Facebook help page on the subject. The problem will not be rectified immediately, but it will get the process started. For other social networking sites, go to their Help feature and search for "fake accounts."
- If your child has created such a page, get them to take it down immediately. Unfortunately in this age of digital permanence, someone may have already made copies of what they saw online so just taking it down is not necessarily going to solve the problem. You also need to have a long talk about cyberbullying with your child (see the resources on this site for help) and figure out how you want them to approach and apologize to the person or persons being ridiculed.
- In researching this article, I was struck by how so many of the examples cited were of fake pages created by "normal" students to ridicule special needs kids. The National Center for Learning Disabilities has done a survey showing sixty percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students Make sure your child understands that everyone deserves respect, no matter what their disability, and comprehends the challenges special needs students face, including being "mainstreamed." Make sure they know that making fun of someone for something that person has no control over is very uncool.