, Salem, MA

Local News

December 22, 2010

Local schools grappling with kids' troubling activity online

BEVERLY — Two Facebook pages asking students to rate one another's looks are the latest example of the challenge schools face from social networking sites.

The pages, both called "Beverly's Finest," post side-by-side photos of middle school and high school students and ask users, "Which is finer?" The sites popped up this fall, although use appears to be slowing down. There hasn't been a post on one since late November.

School principals sent out a Connect-Ed phone message to parents late last week to alert them of the Facebook pages. Although there's nothing illegal, the pages "certainly have the potential to cause some problems," said Emily Rockwell, the coordinator of child welfare for the Beverly School District. "We haven't had a (student) complaint about it, so there's not a lot we can do. But we do have a responsibility to inform parents that they should take a look at what their kids are saying and posting."

The two Beverly's Finest Facebook pages had a total of 339 members yesterday, which is 30 fewer than last week when Beverly principals made the Connect-Ed announcement. When contacted last week, several Beverly school officials admitted that they were not aware the pages existed, and that's part of the problem: How do you monitor a couple thousand Facebook pages?

You can't, said Peabody Veterans Memorial High School Principal Ed Sapienza.

"It's like the wild, wild West out there," Sapienza said. "Now even in elementary school, and I'm talking third and fourth grade, kids are starting to learn how to do this. It's like the prank call of the 21st century ... but instead of something silly, it's derogative and offensive stuff."

Growing problem?

Despite efforts to curtail online bullying through education, discipline and other means, some worry that it actually may be on the rise.

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