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Twitter account bullied students

Account deleted, but not before damage is done
The Twitter profile page for “DHS_Gossip” solicits anonymous gossip or comments from Durango High School students.

An anonymous Twitter account that spread gossip about Durango High School, and in many cases singled out students for attacks, was shut down Thursday evening, but not before it had been active for three weeks and brought cyberbullying to a highly public audience.

The account, DHS Gossip, or @DHS_gossip, tweeted derogatory statements about students’ sexual orientation, promiscuity and physical appearance.

It was unclear Thursday night if the account was shut down by its creator after media exposure or because of a complaint Durango School District 9-R made with Twitter earlier in the afternoon.

“We did file a report. This may have something to do with that,” District 9-R Spokeswoman Julie Popp said late Thursday evening.

The account debuted Feb. 3 with its first tweet, saying a student, who was identified by first name, “is ugly.” It went down hill from there, with tweets mentioning cocaine and sexual activity. The account information said, “Got some gossip or a confession? Tell us about it anonymously.”

A similar account, DHS Confessions, or @DHSconfessions8, was most recently active in November. The accounts provided a link to Google Docs to allow students to submit their own tweets anonymously.

Earlier on Thursday, Popp said in an email that the district was “deeply bothered to learn that this is occurring.” She said it was the first time the district had heard about the @dhs_gossip account.

The most recent tweet from that account was Tuesday. The account’s author or authors had posted 192 tweets and attracted 281 followers before being shut down around 6 p.m.

Popp said the district takes the activity seriously. The district has a No Place for Hate program and a Prejudice Elimination Action Team, which work to address peer-to-peer bullying.

“If issues on social media trickle into the school environment, the school resource officer and/or administration will get involved to help mediate the situation,” Popp said.

Other social media accounts have been created to comment on peers in a more positive light. One, DHS Admiration, or @DHS_Admiration, focuses on physical appearance, complimenting a few students by name as “beautiful.”

Some of the tweets by the accounts are relatively inoffensive, confessing crushes or skepticism of school-spirit events. But many discuss drinking, drug use and sex or criticize individual students by name.

Popp said even the positive accounts violate Twitter’s terms of service by using DHS’ official logo. That’s considered impersonation, she said.

“It’s a violation, and we have to address that with the vendor, in this case Twitter,” Popp said in a telephone interview.

School districts around the nation are frequently dealing with cyberbullying. In a 2014 survey of 661 adolescents ages 11 to 14 conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 12.2 percent reported being victims of cyberbullying in the last 30 days.

In a similar case in Worthington, Minnesota, in 2012, school administrators worked with police to get Twitter to shut down the account.

School administrators face a tough task. Anyone with Internet access can create a Twitter account, and if one account gets shut down, students could create others under different names.

Durango police spokesman Lt. Ray Shupe said DHS’ school resource officer could work to find the students behind the account. Shupe said he was not aware of the specific accounts by DHS students. The school resource officer was returning Thursday from training in Nevada and could not be reached for comment, Shupe said.

A Twitter spokesman, Nu Wexler, declined to address whether the accounts violate Twitter’s terms of service.

“We don’t comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons,” he said in an email. “Our rules outline content and conduct boundaries on Twitter, which include a ban on targeted abuse and posting private information.”

Twitter users can report abuse at support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser, and the company encourages users to report any illegal behavior to local authorities.

cslothower@durangoherald.com

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