WASHINGTON – Facebook wants to quickly hear from Maryland school systems about instances of potential cyberbullying to head-off future tragedies.
The social networking giant and Attorney General Doug Gansler will officially announce a new mechanism Thursday morning to enable direct contact between Maryland school systems and Facebook’s safety team to deal with bullying.
“Too often we read headlines about cyberbullying that inflicts serious emotional trauma on children, or worse yet, ends in tragedy,” says Gansler.
The pilot program will only be available in Maryland.
Under the plan, each school system will identify a single point person for direct communications with Facebook.
When the school system becomes aware of questionable or prohibited content involving students, teachers, or administrators, the point person contacts Facebook, through what’s being called the Educator Escalation Channel.
“For the first time, Facebook will actually take that language off of Facebook,” Gansler tells WTOP.
Gansler says the school system should contact law enforcement if the bullying situation is thought to be a life-threatening emergency.
In less-severe cases of harassment, bullying, and teasing, Gansler says the new program will lessen the emotional damage to targeted students.
“If you’re the perpetrator of the cyberbullying, you’re not committing a crime,” says Gansler. “We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.”
The announcement comes two days after legislation that cracks down on teen cyberbullying took effect in Maryland.
“Grace’s Law” is named after 15-year-old Grace McComas, of Howard County, who took her own life in 2012 after constant online harassment.
Nearly one-third of all school children are bullied each year, and one million children experienced cyberbullying on Facebook in 2011 according to reports cited by Gansler.
The cyberbullying plan is being announced in Ocean City, Md., at a meeting of school system superintendents and legal counsel attending the Maryland Association of Boards of Education fall conference.
“Facebook continues to look for ways to help parents, teens and educators better understand the safety features built into our service,” said Facebook safety team member Brooke Oberwetter Coon.
Gansler says he doesn’t expect the pilot program to eliminate cyberbullying.
“There’s going to be wrinkles in it, and it’s not going to be perfect, but we think it’s a very big first step in the right direction to have Facebook be a positive thing and continue to be a positive thing.