Facebook woes hit T.C. Williams High School

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 8:20 PM

T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria got a look at the downside of social networking in recent days, as school officials and police worked to get a Facebook page that included vulgar descriptions of female students taken down from the popular Web site.

Officials were investigating who is responsible for creating the page, which featured photos of more than 30 teens accompanied by offensive or sexual comments. It was unclear whether the page was made by a student or an adult, officials said.

T.C. Williams Principal Suzanne Maxey said the school became aware of the Facebook page last Thursday and contacted Facebook immediately. It was removed Tuesday, she said.

For a short time, there was a second, similar page, which included Maxey's photo, but that page was quickly taken down by whoever created it, she said.

Two days in a row, Maxey went on the public announcement system at T.C. Williams, letting students know that she thought the page was "totally offensive." She asked students to avoid accessing it. "We're better than this," she recalled saying.

Parents received e-mails from Maxey asking that they talk to their students about the incident and encourage social networking "in a positive and secure manner."

She wrote: "Recent news has made us very aware of the painful results of the inappropriate use of the internet and cybering."

"The parents I've spoken to were very happy with her response to this problem," said Catherine Clinger, PTSA president.

Emma Bartley, 15, a sophomore at the school, said some of the girls featured in the photos were "really upset," but others appeared not to take the offensive material to heart. "I thought it was very disrespectful," she said.

When the page was still up, she said, some of her classmates posted comments showing their disapproval, such as "Take this down" and "This isn't true."

Maxey said that the problem could not have originated at the school. T.C. Williams issues a laptop to every student, but the laptops cannot access Facebook, and neither can other school computers, she said.

A Facebook spokesman, Andrew Noyes, who answered questions by e-mail Thursday, did not say why it took so long to remove the offensive page. He said that the site is "self-regulating" and that its millions of users "keep an eye out for offensive or hateful content."

Once reports are made, Noyes said, Facebook relies on "a large team of professional reviewers who evaluate these reports and take action per our policies."

Maxey said she has heard of similar incidents at other schools and worries that, in an era when bullying has produced teen tragedies, "there is potential for harm." The question that remains, she said, is: "How do we all work together as a society to make sure this doesn't happen to kids?"

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