March Madness took on new meaning at Shaker High School Friday when school officials were notified of a Twitter page with the assumed intent of creating a “competition” for the best-looking female students.
The concept allegedly mirrored the bracket system used for the NCAA basketball championship tournament.
The incident attracted national attention when it was featured on Good Morning America Sunday, but the story’s not the firestorm the media has made it out to be, said D. Joseph Corr, superintendent for the North Colonie Central School District.
Once the Twitter page was on the district’s radar, action was quickly taken and the incident has been transformed into a teaching tool, he said.
The district was notified about the @SHSBracketology Twitter page Friday morning by ABC10 (WTEN), according to Corr.
Female high school students and recent graduates were listed on the page as contenders in the cyber beauty competition. There was also an effort to start a bracket for males but that never panned out, Corr said.
Taryn Kane, communications specialist for the district, said the Twitter page appeared to have been created Thursday night. Friday, district administrators began interviewing students who had posted tweets on the page and notified parents of the situation. By the end of Friday, students had removed all but five or six posts from the page, Corr said.
The majority of students who posted comments on the page voiced displeasure with the content, he noted.
“I’m very proud of our students, because what our students did was they showed character. They stood up for other students. They showed maturity. I thought there were some very positive things that came out of this,” he said, acknowledging the hurt the page undoubtedly caused.
The district has not contacted Twitter about having the page taken down, but instead has chosen to monitor it as a way to try to find out who initiated the page and to see who is commenting on it.
The page could not be accessed by Gazette staff Wednesday morning.
Colonie police officers are providing technical guidance to administrators. So far, the investigation has not revealed that a crime has been committed, Corr said.
“Should they determine it moved in the direction of a crime, then a more active investigation and a more direct involvement on their part would be warranted,” he said.
The creator or creators of the Twitter page have not yet been identified.
In the statement on the district’s Web page, Corr asked parents to contact the Shaker High School principal if they have information about the person or persons responsible for the page.
The district teaches Internet decorum, behavior, safety and awareness at all grade levels, Corr said.
His message to students regarding the Bracketology incident: “This is something that we take very seriously. It’s something you should take very seriously. It’s behavior that’s inappropriate and not acceptable and no matter what you think — you think you have anonymity on this — but at the end of the day, you really don’t and the cyber footprint is long lasting.”
Corr said students are counseled to use good judgment online, practice good character, be concerned about others and think of how others might feel when something like the Bracketology page is posted online.
He urged parents to monitor what their children are doing online and to think about whether activities are age-appropriate.
“Remind your children that what you put out there has the potential to stay with you,” he counseled. “If you go out there and you post something inappropriate, then your future has been compromised somewhat.”
According to Kane, students have been asking how the Bracketology concept of rating students is any different from the “senior superlatives” that appear in the yearbook, which rank students in categories such as best looking, smartest and funniest.
Corr agreed that senior superlatives are a superficial way to rank people but said there is an important difference between the lighthearted yearbook inclusion and the Bracketology page.
“With something like senior superlatives, at least there is control over that. There is an accountability that’s factored in there. With something like [the Twitter page] that’s posted online, there’s none of that whatsoever, and it very quickly can go into some very bad spots where people can post things without responsibility and without accountability that can result in feelings being hurt and making people feel extremely uncomfortable and not safe or welcome in the school environment,” he said.
Corr said the district will continue to investigate who is behind the Twitter page.
“Students who disrupt the learning environment in any way will be disciplined,” read the district’s online statement.
Officials plan to continue to monitor the Twitter page and any facsimile ones.
A page with the handle @SHSBracketolog was accessible to Gazette staff Tuesday evening. At that time, the page contained a single tweet posted March 17 that read: “New Shaker High School beauty bracket on its way! RT if you want to apply.”
Mike Feurstein, founder and instructor for DON’T WAIT to UnMake a Bully, said cyberbullying can be more damaging than the face-to-face kind — to all parties involved.
“Cyberbullying is almost indelible. Things can be saved, shared, archived. Everything you do on the Internet can be recorded. Some of the kids who are doing the bullying here in this case are damaging their future,” he said.
Those who feel bullied by the Bracketology page could suffer in different ways.
“They are being taught that the way they look is the way that they’re going to be perceived as important or not,” he said, noting that eating disorders or hang-ups about looks could also result.
Bystanders can help to take away the power of a person who bullies, Feurstein said.
“[Cyberbullying’s] cowardly. It’s words on a screen, which could affect you deeply if it hits the right chord, but if you have enough people backing you, saying, ‘You know what? That’s not true. Don’t listen to it,’ it’s going to be a lot easier to ignore,” he said.
Feurstein, who lives in Schenectady, educates students worldwide about bullying and helps classes make their own anti-bullying public service announcements.
Three short anti-bullying films made in partnership with DON’T WAIT to UnMake a Bully, the Scotia-Glenville Central School District and a school in Australia will be shown at the Scotia-Glenville Middle School at 6:30 p.m. March 27.