For East Chapel Hill High School junior Erika Franco, Facebook is one of the few ways she can stay connected to her family in Mexico.
But the rise of cyberbullying has led Franco to carefully consider each post and status update so she doesn’t become the next victim.
On Thursday, East Chapel Hill High School held its first summit on cyberbullying, or the use of technology and social media to harm others.
Rob Frescoln, an administrative intern at the school, said the purpose of the summit was to change the way students use social media and end cyberbullying.
“Right now, we are trying to change the culture of social media,” Frescoln said.
He said there have been several cyberbullying incidents at East Chapel Hill High School, but just one case was significant enough for him to organize the summit.
“Any opportunity that we have to change the culture is going to make the difference,” Frescoln said.
The summit included group activities where students shared their experiences with cyberbullying.
Franco told her classmates about her friend who became a victim of cyberbullying after two girls created a fake profile on a social media site.
“They pretended to be a guy and played with her feelings for two months before she found out,” Franco said.
The incident forced Franco’s friend to move schools.
“It hurt me because that’s when I realized the power of social networks,” Franco said.
New forms of social media like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have replaced Facebook as the main platform for cyberbullying.
“Parents don’t know how these new platforms work, so kids can create their own identity and hide it,” Frescoln said.
East Chapel Hill High School junior Daniel Wittekind said social media has become so accessible that anyone can use it in any way.
“It’s funny on TV, but in real life, it’s real,” he said. “It’s wrong.”
Frescoln said cyberbullying is especially vicious because students don’t see their victim.
“It’s what we call keyboard courage,” Frescoln said. “You are saying things you wouldn’t normally say to someone’s face.”
Frescoln said parents used to worry about online predators. But for this generation, he said, the real threat is the kids themselves.
“With this generation, it’s not abductions or predators,” Frescoln said. “It’s kids hurting kids and kids hurting themselves.”
He said he hoped the summit would drive students to encourage their peers to stay away from cyberbullying.
“People are still going to do this, but we can’t let these things slide,” Franco said. “We need to let them know that there are consequences.”
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