Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Crackdown on Facebook "Burn" Pages
By Pamela Owen
(U.K.) Schoolchildren have been setting up special Facebook 'burn' pages to post vile and abusive messages about their peers.
Police have now said they are cracking down on the phenomenon and have warned pupils to start removing their names and comments - many of them sexual - off the pages.
Officers estimate as many as 700 students are involved in the sites - which are inspired by the cult film Mean Girls - in which students write hurtful and often fabricated gossip in a 'burn book'. So far eight of the pages in the Portsmouth area of Hampshire have been shut down after police and schools contacted Facebook.
However many, including Portsmouth Burn which has 712 friends, are still being used.
Police have warned pupils who continue to post messages on the pages that they could face investigation and prosecution.
At Park Community School in Leigh Park, near Havant, Hampshire, 50 students were members of a 'Hampshire burn' page.
Three students - a former male pupil, a year 11 boy and a year 10 girl - were victims of particularly depraved sexual comments.
Sue Walker, deputy head, said: 'Last week it came to my attention there were a number of 'burn' sites - 'Hampshire Burn', 'Leigh Park Burn' and others. I had 178 pages of the Hampshire Burn site downloaded and it was deeply unpleasant stuff. I knew immediately this was something that could get out of control and that we had to act quickly.'
Miss Walker called on schools officer PC Justine Lewis, who has since been talking to pupils about the consequences of being involved in such sites.
In particular, students could face charges of harassment and assault that could result in up to two years' imprisonment. PC Lewis said students had been given a short amnesty over the weekend to withdraw their names and comments.
'We don't want to criminalise children but if they don't take themselves off we will be calling them in individually, talking to their parents and considering criminal charges,' she said. 'This is a very difficult area to police but I'm really pleased schools have taken positive action and safer neighbourhood teams are working closely with them.'
A 'Purbrook Burn' site was taken down after the headteacher of Purbrook Park School, in Waterlooville, Hampshire, called a meeting with all 40 pupils who were members of the group.
Paul Foxley said a year 11 girl admitted to creating the page and took it down the same day. 'I made it very clear to the students that their online safety was extremely important to me - I will not tolerate any rude comments online or in person,' he said. 'As a result, a girl owned up to setting it up and it was gone in a day. She was very remorseful but we did give her a five-day internal exclusion as it was a very serious mistake on her part.'
A Facebook spokeswoman said anyone concerned about online bullying should contact the site immediately so their dedicated team can investigate and take down any offending sites immediately.