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Cellphone app attracts teen bullies

St. Albert students banned from using Whisper iPhone app

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013 06:00 am

CARELESS WHISPERS – Some youths in St. Albert are using the iPhone app Whisper to post derogatory comments about each other. As a result of the misuse, access from several St. Albert schools has been blocked by app administrator.
CARELESS WHISPERS – Some youths in St. Albert are using the iPhone app Whisper to post derogatory comments about each other. As a result of the misuse, access from several St. Albert schools has been blocked by app administrator.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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Students from several St. Albert schools have been banned from using the Whisper iPhone app after using it to harass classmates online.

The social media app released earlier this year allows individuals to anonymously “share their secrets.”

Without having their real identity tied to their “whisper,” users use the app to divulge their innermost thoughts and parts of their lives they may not feel comfortable communicating on other social networking sites.

The app was developed with the intent that users post what they are unlikely to admit in person. Examples of posts include: “I believe in ghosts” or more candidly, “It’s so hard to compete with all these Barbie doll girls.” Users of the app have to be 17 years of age or older.

Guidance counsellor Marg Hansen caught wind of Whisper two weeks ago when posts by and about students from Sir George Simpson School yielded questionable material.

“There were some posts that had some derogatory comments about some of our students,” said Hansen, adding the content and graphics of the posts were concerning and were meant for adults only. Other posts named specific junior and senior high school students and were of a harassing nature.

Hansen has been working closely with Whisper app administrators to combat the problem, deleting the posts of concern and blocking user accounts to curb harassment and bullying.

According to Nicole Webb, community manager of Whisper, 350 users in the Alberta area have been banned from the app within the last month. As stated in the terms of use policy, the company reserves the right to remove posts that contain hate speech, unlawful, defamatory or fraudulent content.

Students will no longer be able to access the app from local schools, including: Paul Kane High School, Bellerose Composite, St. Albert Catholic High, Lorne Akins Junior High, Sir George Simpson Junior High and Vincent J. Maloney Catholic Junior High School. User accounts from these schools have been added to Whisper’s banned list.

Hansen said she is pleased with the quick action of the app administrators, but noted the responsibility also comes down to the students.

“The junior high schools in St. Albert Public are very proactive in sending positive messages about the Internet, in terms of who you are as a digital citizen,” she said, adding that schools impress upon students the importance of promoting themselves as people of integrity.

School liaison officer Const. Janice Schoepp of the St. Albert RCMP couldn’t agree more.

“The minute you post something you can’t take it back. You may try to delete it, but you never know who received it or who will send it on,” she said.

“It’s about showing integrity. If you see something or you receive something, it’s important to not just be a bystander and not do anything about it. Everyone has a responsibility.”

Schoepp explained that placing criminal charges on an individual accused of online harassment or bullying can be difficult under the criminal code, which is even further complicated by anonymity.

“Even if you find out whose phone it’s from or whose computer it is, you still need to be able to prove who used it.”

Schoepp urges people to think before they post to social media sites, not to respond or retaliate if they see an inappropriate posting, report criminal activity to police and save the evidence of the crime through a screenshot. Parents also need to be diligent in educating themselves, talking to their kids and setting boundaries.

“I can’t preach enough how important it is to be responsible,” she added.


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