Cyberbullying Incidents Result In Disabled Forum

Williams

On Dec. 8, Mr. Larry Wooldridge (Principal) released a letter to parents regarding reports of cyberbullying. The letter was a response to the cyberbullying outbreak on the High School Confession Board, an anonymous Internet forum for high school students that had launched three days earlier.

Read the letter from Mr. Wooldridge.

Visitors of the website anonymously posted offensive comments about individual Manual students as well as comments about the students in the specific majors duPont Manual offers. Comments ranged from judgmental remarks about girls’ appearances to gripes about students’ personalities. Few students used a name or even a pseudonym.

“I’m friends with a lot of the people who were on there,” said Christa Iwu (11). “The manner in which they were saying those things really hurt my feelings because it was like they were insulting me second hand.”

Others blew off the criticism. “My name was mentioned on the site but I didn’t take it personally,” said Joyce Milford (12). “I didn’t realize the website was a serious issue or that the comments could be so harsh.”

But not all students took the comments lightly. According to Mr. Wooldridge, students went to the school’s offices looking for help dealing with the offensive comments. The administration took action immediately, reporting the incident to the JCPS legal department. They contacted the family of one of the site’s founders, Alex Zeltser, a Manual graduate and Carnegie Mellon University freshman. Zeltser’s mother asked him to take the site down immediately, which he did.

Zeltser, who hoped to turn the site into a profitable venture, defended his original vision. “The idea was a board where high school kids could talk freely and not have to worry about being judged. I took the idea from collegeacb.com, which was for colleges. It’s been around for a while.”

Collegeacb.com features similar content, like the High School Confession Board. He was aware of the controversy with Collegeacb.com but continued to pursue his version of the site for high school students. “I planned moderation but honestly, I had no idea it would explode this quickly,” he said. “I knew some people would put down others and that would be moderated, but certain posts–I don’t even know how they could go through people’s heads. It honestly shocked me.”

When RedEye reporters checked the site at 2:05 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, it had been disabled by its administrators. “Site is taken down, for good by the way,” Zeltser said at 2:28 p.m.

Zeltser’s vision of a forum where high school kids speak without fear of being judged was not one that was realized by Miranda Thompson (11), who was unhappy with the anonymous criticisms on the site. “That’s what people do, they judge people, and they finally found a way to let everyone know what they were thinking,” she said.

Zeltser condemned the hateful remarks, offering a final word after he disabled the site. “To the people whose posts were way out of line, take a good look at yourself in the mirror,” he said.

To view the Facebook chat interview between Alex Zeltser and Manual RedEye Reporter, Naiyana Williams, click here. [At Alex Zeltser’s request, we have removed the chat transcript.]

By Naiyana Williams, Beat/Calendar Editor

9 COMMENTS

  1. I think that if you want to claim that the Facebook chat interview is the “entire unedited” version, you can’t just remove things like the “Reporter’s opinion.” Not only is it just plain false that the interview is the “entire unedited” thing, but it also removes all evidence of potential bias.

  2. Thanks for your comment. The “entire unedited” statement was an oversight, written before we decided to remove the reporter’s opinion in the link. We corrected the wording to the link.

  3. I agree with the preceding comment– yeah, sure, it was edited for integrity or something, which is fine I guess, but it’s no longer full and unedited.

  4. Would you be mad at the person who constructed restrooms in a public park? There’s going to be graffiti. Is it just too difficult to find the people in charge for the vandalism? Keep in mind the domain and server I paid for is essentially my property and in some sense it was vandalized.

    The underlying premise behind the site is clearly not new and has been around a while through means of formspring or other similar sites. At the end of the day I put out a forum and let others do the posting. Mark Zuckerberg does that with names. Twitter does that with random Handles. 4chan does it anonymously. There are millions of web forums out there where students could have gone to, made up irrelevant pen names and done the same thing. There are just too many examples out there.

    Oh and on another level. My “friend” and I had this idea more than three months ago. I’m not sure you understand the dedication and planning it takes to make this happen or the other college activities you have to forego just to get button working correctly. At the end of the day there was a fatal flaw and I’ll admit that. Maybe moderation was the flaw or the entire concept itself. At this point it doesn’t matter to me. I will say this though. When you see a project or something you put many hours of work into flail and are given the option to kill it instantly or try your best to scramble to save it, even if it’s nearly hopeless, I would assume you’d be hard-pressed to go with the former right away.

  5. Sorry for the triple post, but one additional comment:

    I want to say that I know firsthand that Zeltser created this website with no malicious intentions– and he in every way wished to respect people’s privacy, which is why he opted for anonymity. While it was a careless mistake on Alex’s part that led to the backfire in this whole process, it was a mistake nonetheless, and after attempts at making amends through moderation failed, he pulled the site.

    Considering that the site was protected such that he had zero legal obligation to take it down, I’d like everyone to consider the fact he was willing to quickly drop what could have remained a strong profitable venture within a few days of initially launching the site.

    That’s the other rumor I’d like to clear up. Some people seemed to think that this site had been up for weeks, but it had been launched to Manual students mere days before it was pulled. The growth rate over those few days was astounding and the truly awful material escalated close to the last minute. Considering that the student running the site was able to that quickly take it offline while simultaneously managing a busy schedule at Carnegie-Mellon, I’d say there’s a little merit in that.

  6. Mr. Zeltser,

    I’ve set up forums on multiple BBS platforms in the past and I haven’t found that they’ve been particularly time-consuming to set up. As a matter of fact, I’m confident I could completely set up a PHPBB3 board in around 30 minutes, and I’m fairly sure that PHPBB3 is more complicated than most other BBS platforms.

    It was very nice of you to think back to your high school friends and set up a BBS for them to use now that you’re in college, but I’m not entirely sure as to why you would want to do that.

    Also, looking back at Google’s cached version of your page, the homepage of highschoolcb.com specifically noted that “Your school administration has no way of obtaining any identifiable information.” While I’m a fan of free speech, surely you considered that this could lead to harmful comments. If the board grew as you intended it to, surely you would have realized that the number of innapropriate comments would far surpass the ability of your moderators.

    Actually, I’m surprised that you didn’t realize quickly that the number of innapropriate comments on the board posted in a such a short amount of time would mean that a conflict would explode with this. You did get in to Carnegie-Mellon, right? I guess you hadn’t been on the board a few days, but I got on the night before you shut it down and the majority of the threads were unintelligent and demeaning babbling about the physical characteristics of my classmates.

    I know that if you had seen the board, you would have shut it down. I mean, that stuff was seriously terrible. It made me sick to read it.

  7. I think that it’s especially important to keep in mind that while websites like 4chan have anonymous forums, not everyone on 4chan knows the same people. It would be trivial to make comments about random high school students because no one would know who they are. This website was harmful because it was confined to such close quarters.

  8. Also the public park restroom analogy is definitely not valid. I wouldn’t be mad at the city for building the restroom, but I would blame them for not keeping it clean.

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