Web war: schoolkids vs teachers

Last updated 05:00 06/09/2012

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Students posting offensive pictures and "bullying" teachers on Facebook has forced a Hamilton high school to take action to have the page shut down.

A meeting was held at Hamilton Girls' High School on Tuesday to demand that a meme page, set up by students to express opinions about the school - some which could be considered offensive - be removed within 24 hours.

But the students involved said, with the exception of a few "mean" posts, everything was above board and the school was being "too strict".

The Facebook page, which had 1327 followers, featured dozens of pictures, often accompanied by a comment that mocked the school, staff or students.

Principal Mary Ann Baxter said, while she recognised it may have been amusing for students, some of the posts directed at individual teachers were abusive.

"You don't stand by and let anyone be abused ... when you have a school which has a policy about zero tolerance to any form of bullying," she said.

"Once it was pointed out to them that, in fact, it could be seen as abuse of another person it was up to them to be responsible and to take the appropriate action."

Ms Baxter would not say what action would have been taken against the students involved, but said it would be treated as a "discipline issue around abuse of staff".

However, a student, who the Times agreed not to name, said the page was intended as "a joke" and not to cause offence.

Students were given until last night to remove the page or risk "serious action", she said. The page was shut down yesterday afternoon.

Nearly every Hamilton secondary school, and others in Waikato, have a dedicated meme page.

Pictures posted on some pages could be considered racist, sexist or defamatory. Others, simply honest opinion.

A post on the Morrinsville College page, which has almost 500 ‘likes', mocked the school's stance on bullying.

The imitation Tui beer ad says: "Morrinsville College takes pride in their students safety. Yeah right." (sic)

Principal John Inger, who has been targeted in several memes, said he had "no power whatsoever" to shut the page down, but if staff were able to identify who was involved he would take action.

"We've been upset by some of the things that have been put on there but we're trying not to react to this as a big issue."

He said IT staff had been in contact with Facebook to ask that some posts be removed and he warned senior students to be wary about proposed new laws around cyber bullying.

Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said school meme pages had been sweeping the country.

Many of the pictures posted by students were "almost akin to a hate crime".

"They were started off as ... good-humoured and good-natured but they quickly descended into students making defamatory comments about other students and staff members."

Mr Walsh welcomed the Law Commission's proposal to create a communications tribunal to monitor online abuse.

Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said his organisation was contracted by the Ministry of Education to assist schools in creating a safe, online environment.

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He had regular contact with schools about the meme pages, but said New Zealand's "broad legal framework" limited what action schools could take.

"If the content is not offensive you mostly have to accept that they just have to be allowed to exist."

The meme pages often breached Facebook's conditions, which was grounds to have them shut down, Mr Cocker said.

WHAT IS A MEME?

A link, video, picture, website, hashtag, word or phrase spread via the internet. An idea or cultural unit that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.

Often intended to be funny.

Term coined by Richard Dawkins for his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins described it as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation".

- Waikato Times

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