Education News

Jan 6, 2014 10:02 AM by Alex Backus - MTN News

Police taking aim at cyberbullying in Montana

GREAT FALLS - Cyberbullying is now one of the biggest issues student resource officers deal with at all grade levels across Montana.

"Everything that we deal with, it seems like anymore seems like it's from a social network or a phone is involved - or text messaging is involved," observed Helena School Resource Officer Bryan Fischer.

Student resource officers patrol schools around the state, but their attention has shifted behind the screen.

"All you need is an iPad, an iPod, a cell phone, a smartphone. And at that particular point, it's almost immediate from only one or two people seeing a physical bullying confrontation...[to] hundreds of kids [seeing it]," Fischer added.

Face-to-face confrontations are more physical and can be verbal, but cyberbullying has more social and emotional effects.

"Negative name-calling, social isolation, or feel that they're not worth anything - and the next thing you know is that they're committing suicide or harming themselves, so it becomes a major issue," Fischer said.

"It's really kind of become overly inappropriate," Great Falls School Resource Officer Nick Taylor observed, adding it's become a big problem.

"Confession pages on Facebook. One student had started [a] page [and] you would send these anonymous things to that one student. He would then post them anonymously onto [the] page, and it got to the point where a lot of real derogatory - sexual," Taylor explained.

There are ways to monitor anonymous activity online - by making accounts. "I was able to go in and look at the comments coming in from other students, and based on those comments I'll start calling kids in," Taylor told us.

"It seems like every single time within 20 minutes [or] 30 minutes of me putting pressure on these students and really explaining some potential legal ramifications, the pages are shut down pretty quickly," he added.

Since Montana is the only state without a bullying law, two state laws are enforced.

"Disorderly conduct in the state of Montana covers using profane, abusive or threatening language or threatening to fight [and] creating a physically offensive or hazardous condition," Taylor said.

Privacy in communications - using threatening or profane language with the purpose of intimidating or harassing somebody using an electronic communication - also comes into play.

"I don't think kids realize how serious it is. These students think they're anonymous when they're doing this and really, truly they're not. There's a way to find out who you are," Great Falls School Resource Officer Mike Stimac pointed out.

He added that middle school is when the bullying is at its worst. "I think it's a transitional period not only for them, but also their parents."

"Then we're also seeing on a middle school level - and even down to elementary schools - some sexting," Stimac added.

"Really try to focus on teaching these kids how to cope with these things because [the] bottom line [is that] we know this isn't something that's going stop after you graduate from high school," Taylor concluded.

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