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Help me rid this school of Google Buzz
May 4, 2010 6:26 AM   Subscribe

How do I keep students from abusing and bullying each other through Google Buzz while they're at school?

I'm the network admin for a private K-8 school. Recently, the 4th graders (not even legal age to sign up for a Google account) have become incredibly abusive toward one another over Google Buzz, using profanity and insulting one another without the burden of having to do it face to face. Worse, they're doing this from school, and I've been tasked with figuring out how to stop it.

There are several approaches I've thought of, but each has their problems:
- Educating the students on cyber bullying. A good long-term solution, but difficult and not totally effective.
- Having consequences for Google Buzz use at school. This is easy to implement but difficult to enforce.
- Talking to the parents to have them disable their kids' Buzz accounts. This would be OK if the parents actually knew more about computers than their kids.
- Firewalling or otherwise blocking Buzz at school. I still haven't been able to find any resources explaining how to do this, other than blocking all of gmail, which is not acceptable.

Any additional ideas would be appreciated!
posted by jehsom to Technology (30 answers total)
 
Personally, I would rephrase this question with any of the following:

"How do I keep students from abusing and bullying each other through passing notes?"

"How do I keep students from abusing and bullying each other through writing on lockers?"

"How do I keep students from abusing and bullying each other by sending text messages?"

... and solve the problem that way.

Google Buzz is not the problem here. Most bullies never really do their worst "face to face". Buzz is just the latest way they're doing it. If you shut down Buzz, they will find another way -- Twitter, Facebook, good ol' email, whatever.
posted by olinerd at 6:33 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


other than blocking all of gmail, which is not acceptable.

Out of curiosity -- why?

Also, olinerd is right -- they'll just find another means of bullying if you shut down Buzz. You need to address your bullying problem, not your Buzz problem.
posted by schmod at 6:36 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I definitely think there should be some outreach to parents so that the ones who can do something (or care to) can work on the problem from their own end, or at least stand warned.
posted by hermitosis at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2010


Bullying is bullying whether it occurs via the internet, SMS, or face-to-face.

1) The kids (and possibly their parents) need to be taught this simple fact, and taught that bullying has consequences.
2) The school authorities need to treat cyberbullying the same as face-to-face bullying, issuing the same punishments regardless of the medium used.
3) Ideally this would be a policy of zero-tolerance.

What would the school do with old-fashioned face-to-face bullies?

I'm not advocating snooping on the kids Buzz accounts but where a child has a complaint presumably the evidence for who is doing the bullying is pretty clear.
posted by jonesor at 6:45 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Google Buzz is not the problem here. Most bullies never really do their worst "face to face". Buzz is just the latest way they're doing it. If you shut down Buzz, they will find another way -- Twitter, Facebook, good ol' email, whatever.

I think this is a bit short-sighted... it's all very well and good for digitally-connected and proficient folks like (I'm assuming) most of us on MeFi to proclaim that technology is inherently a neutral or value-free kind of thing... in many instances it is. But the question here is about dealing with kids in grade 4.. what's value-neutral in our hands may become something very different in the hands of a child.

Of course eliminating Google Buzz is not going 'stop' all bullying, but that doesn't mean it is not worth attempting, any more than trying to eliminate bullying on the playground is going to eliminate all bullying and is therefore also not worth attempting.

My own personal solution would be to make the kids aware that school authorities/parents are monitoring what they are 'buzzing', and start doling out sanctions where appropriate (assuming of course that the kids are not creating endless throwaway anonymous gmail accounts).
posted by modernnomad at 6:48 AM on May 4, 2010


i really hope they are just asking you to figure out how to make it harder for kids to use this as a weapon and someone in a disiplinary position is taking care of the actual cracking down on the kids.

don't laugh, but how does google buzz work? Is there a trackable source to see this bullying? if so, print that crap out and call the parents and have consequences for the kids who are treating people poorly.
posted by domino at 6:51 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I'm sitting here thinking of creative punishments for this behavior, I think you should make a class blog, and any time a kid is caught Buzzing something mean, that kid should have to write a blog post saying nice things about the person they were bullying that is then published (not public for the whole internet, but in a way that the rest of your students can see).

To be fair, you will be teaching them to blog -- a lesson they may or may not take home and use for evil -- but it'd be a way of fighting mean internet words with nice internet words.
posted by olinerd at 6:54 AM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


How do you stop any negative behavior? You do it through rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. If bulling has no consequences, that creates a very low bar for entry into that type of behavior. I say you print out transcripts, present these to the school counselor with copies to the teacher, and have them call in the parents for a conference.

modernnomad: "My own personal solution would be to make the kids aware that school authorities/parents are monitoring what they are 'buzzing', and start doling out sanctions where appropriate [ . . . ]"

Exactly. Make sure you have them all sign off on a policy about rights and responsibilities of using the school network, along with a policy on cyberbullying. Give it some teeth, enforce it, and the word will get out that there are consequences. Some kids will still engage in it, but you will have raised the bar enough to make whatever rush of power kids get from bullying other kids less attractive to many of them.
posted by wheat at 7:08 AM on May 4, 2010


I know some social media sites work with schools and help cut off the accounts of too-young users; you may start by reporting them.

As a school board member (and this is a top-level, administrative solution, not a classroom-level or student-level solution, just one more to add to your list), I would have a meeting with parents, discuss the Phoebe Prince bullying case and other, similar cases, outline the (new?) policies for students caught using Google Buzz AND policies for students caught cyberbullying, and I would make them harsh. --Are they using Buzz on school computers? Then they lose all technology access and take zeros on all assignments they can't complete during that time. If it's phones, they lose their phones and if they do it twice, they have to be searched and if it's three times, they get suspended. --For the cyberbullying, first offense is detention, second is 1-day suspension (unless really egregious in which case suspension for first offense), third is 10-day suspension, fourth is they lose the entire semester. Parents paying private school tuition will find a way to block their children's access to this technology and institute home punishments as well for children engaging in cyberbullying when the penalties involve suspensions and so forth. At the parental meeting I would also talk about monitoring computer use at home, what kinds of technology are appropriate at what ages, etc. Some parents seem to give in to their children's technology demands partly out of ignorance, but often largely out of the belief that "all the other kids have Facebook" or whatever. Having the school provide guidelines and standards can help parents set more sensible guidelines.

That shit's serious and you must treat it as such.

Of course combine it with some kind of bullying education for students, but I really think you've got to get the parents on board here.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 AM on May 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


should have to write a blog post saying nice things about the person they were bullying

I think this dramatically underestimates kids' facility with sarcasm and irony.
posted by avianism at 7:22 AM on May 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


Have you seen the govt's information about bullying?

But as for the google buzz thing, it's all publicly monitorable. Make sure that the school has rules in place against bullying and then bust the kids when they do it.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that you could block just google buzz. BTW, what's the difference if the bully uses google buzz vs just sending the target an email? Is it the fact that it's public?
posted by reddot at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2010


I think this dramatically underestimates kids' facility with sarcasm and irony.

Yes, though I imagined in my scenario that the teacher would be reviewing and editing it before it was published.
posted by olinerd at 7:35 AM on May 4, 2010


When I was a kid, if we got caught passing notes we'd be forced to get up and read them in front of the class. That might be unnecessarily cruel to the subject of the bullying. Perhaps read in front of a meeting with the principal and a parent?

There's probably an object lesson here, one that every internet user should learn sooner rather than later, that the things you put in writing take on a life beyond you. A couple of screenshots printed out on paper and put in a file will probably begin to drive this point home. If not now, at the next parent-teacher conference, or in a parent's hand at home.

They don't have any real sense of permanence at that age, but they know that school records persist. Permanent Record and all that. There should also be a strong message presented that acting like this makes you a shitty little asshole, but you can't make them care about that.

As a practical first step, you can disallow Buzz being turned on in the classroom, and it's quite easy to see if someone has it turned on or off. Tell them you'll report them to Google and They (you know, They) might contact their parents about their children lying on age-verification questions.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even if you could block google buzz at school, it's still on the internet, which is accessible everywhere else. Some kids may even have it on phones that they (secretly) use at school. You need to deal with this the way you'd deal with an offline bullying problem.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they're doing this at school, is the school doing anything disciplinary? I would assume if a child is caught hitting someone or bullying the "regular" way, there is disciplinary action of some kind. Is the issue that the kids are doing this anonymously and therefore no one knows who's actually doing it?

If the problem is anonymity, the school should add cyber-bullying to it's anti-bullying stance. I hope your school has an anti-bullying stance and program that drills into the kids from day one that it won't be tolerated and will be dealt with immediately. If it doesn't, maybe that's the first place to start.
posted by cooker girl at 7:39 AM on May 4, 2010


Of course bullying is the crux of the problem, not the tool. But the students have shown they're not mature enough to use it. Not to mention this:

Recently, the 4th graders (not even legal age to sign up for a Google account) have become incredibly abusive toward one another over Google Buzz

Look at it from a liability angle: You indicate you're aware these kids are below the age stipulated in the terms of service, and yet you're not cutting off their access. Are you exposing the school--your employer--to legal liability? Would your answer change if something awful resulted from all this bullying, like in the Phoebe Prince case?

Cut them off from Gmail.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:08 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, if we got caught passing notes we'd be forced to get up and read them in front of the class. That might be unnecessarily cruel to the subject of the bullying. Perhaps read in front of a meeting with the principal and a parent?

This.
posted by jeanmari at 8:11 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I hit "post" too soon. I'm a proponent of the "stand up and read it in front of parents, teacher, principal and possibly the person being bullied parents" for a couple of reasons:

1) it is technology neutral...it happens whether the offense occurs in person, over email, with a handwritten note or on Google Buzz.
2) it forces the child to "own" what they are saying and have to take accountability for it.
3) it creates an opportunity for talking about the content of the message, the way that it was delivered, and the longer-term implications of both.

I think that from a school liability perspective? I'm with ImproviseorDie, you need to mitigate the risks of liability for the school. But just pushing it away from the school, while not examining the root causes of bullying and addressing them, is also not a good solution.
posted by jeanmari at 8:19 AM on May 4, 2010


I heard a smart university counsel say that we don't need separate Internet policies: did we get separate typewriter policies when they were invented? No, instead we have media-neutral policies on harassment and the like, regardless of how the harassment was delivered. There was an article usually referred to in shorthand as "Law of the Horse" which you may wish to read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_Horse

A multi-pronged approach of education, policy, and enforcement is best. If there's a little humiliation for the violators thrown in, I can't say I would object (though I don't know that it would help).
posted by wenestvedt at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2010


I think this dramatically underestimates kids' facility with sarcasm and irony. [re writing something nice about the bullied child]

It could be another sort of topic -- a post about "a time I was bullied," or "a time my friend was bullied," or even "bad things caused by bullying." I love the blog idea but agree that it could have unintended consequences.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:38 AM on May 4, 2010


Recently, the 4th graders (not even legal age to sign up for a Google account) have become incredibly abusive toward one another over Google Buzz, using profanity and insulting one another without the burden of having to do it face to face.

Firewalling or otherwise blocking Buzz at school. I still haven't been able to find any resources explaining how to do this, other than blocking all of gmail, which is not acceptable.


These two statements from your question contradict each other. If the 4th graders aren't old enough to have Gmail accounts, why do you have to allow them to use Gmail? If Gmail is the way you communicate to families, then just block the email at school, and send Gmail updates to the home email account.

I'm not arguing, by the way, against taking steps to eradicate the bullying, because I think it is important to send the message that bullying is NOT okay, no matter what form it takes. But I'd block gmail at school, so at least you aren't responsible for what happens there. That won't end the bullying, but it will cut down what is going on in school.

Also, I'm sure your kids aren't supposed to be using profanity in public profiles (like Buzz), so that's definitely something you can go after and discipline.
posted by misha at 8:59 AM on May 4, 2010


I agree with everyone who suggests a human-based approach to eradicating bullying of all sorts. Some of your ideas are very good. I do, however, also want some sort of technology-based solution as well, as a stop-gap solution. We can't block gmail altogether not only because the teachers use it (and abide by the same filter as the kids), and the kids use it to send school-related documents between school and home... maybe other legitimate uses as well, but they don't come to mind right off.
posted by jehsom at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2010


Why can't you create different filters for students and teachers?

If the kids need to use Gmail to send docs between school and home, why not find a different solution, like Dropbox (just use the web app rather than the desktop app)?

Besides, children are not allowed to have Gmail accounts anyway.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 AM on May 4, 2010


I'm kind of amazed that your students are allowed such unrestricted Internet access. When I was in public school a few years ago, the standard was to block almost everything, but especially things like gmail and anything else communication oriented. We used flash drives to transfer things from school to home, or our district's network drive setup. I was hardly a fan of filtering, but in elementary school? With this sort of abuse going on? It might be time to redefine Internet access at school as a privilege, not a right.
posted by MadamM at 10:27 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nothing short of banning all internet access will prevent cyber bullying. Kids will bully in person or via notes or via the telephone. I bet deaf kids bully each other with ASL. In short, it is education, monitoring and then consequences for the perps.

As an side, I am surprised such young kids figured out something like Buzz...now if it was Google Wave, I'd really be impressed that someone found a use for that.
posted by mmascolino at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2010


My kids are in public school, and are required to use Flash drives to transfer documents from school to home, as MadamM says.

And I am also surprised that the kids have such unsupervised freedom to internet privileges in school when they are, what, 9 or 10 years old?

I'd definitely suggest that at the very least you change the filters so the teachers have more freedom than the students.

And if the teachers can't supervise the kids when they are online, cyber-bullying others, then disallow the students to use Gmail at school, use flash drives or a different app for transferring documents, and make your own life a lot easier.
posted by misha at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem is the anonymity. The username might indicate that LilJimmy called FatTommy a buttface. Can you be sure the Jimmy you punish is the same kid? What if Jimmy left his account logged in and someone else posted mean things to get Jimmy in trouble? You'd have no way of figuring out who was really the bully in that situation.

My gut instinct says that you should report the accounts of bullies to google and tell them the users are too young. Hopefully google will ban them. The problem is that this will just teach the kids to make throwaway accounts. As long as they know the victim's screen name, it's trivial to attack them. I have no doubt that 4th graders are that clever (or that one or two 4th graders per class are that clever and happy to tell their friends about it).

Why are the kids being given unrestricted internet access at all?
posted by valadil at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2010


I'm an IT coordinator for a K-12 school and my first response is, "Technology is not the solution to poor classroom management or lack of parental oversite." Granted, you may get overruled, but that's my general theory.
I say this because most of the responses look at problem as a general bullying problem rather than a technological problem, which I think is absolutely the correct way to go. If you start blocking Buzz now, then they will find a way to bully through another online method. Or phone messaging.
Also, this is not a network admin problem. It's an administrator problem. Now, if administration comes back down says BLOCK BUZZ NOW, it's a different story. But, I would ask administration to deal with the problem as a general bullying problem rather than a technological one.

That said, going the technological route, they don't need to use buzz. You can create a free K-12 Google Apps domain (something we're in the midst of doing) for the school and disable Buzz & Chat through the admin console. There should not be a need for the school to use Google (or any form of e-mail) without central administrative control.
As far as sharing documents go, I would highly recommend implementing Google Docs and/or some kind of Course Management Software such as Moodle. Sharing documents through a method intended for constant sharing and updating makes life much easier for teachers in the longrun.
posted by jmd82 at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why are the kids being given unrestricted internet access at all?

From the sound of it, there is a filter- it's just that everyone's on the same filter. Not uncommon for schools.
posted by jmd82 at 11:46 AM on May 4, 2010


The Internet makes it a bit more of a problem because the bully is a step removed from the person being bullied, it's easy and fast to send lots of messages, the bully may not see the effect on the person being bullied.

1. Out bullying, shame bullying behavior.
Lesson plans about bullying, what it is, why it's bad. Share bullying info w/ parents and essentially present the same lesson plans. Recruit parents as partners.
2. Reward kindness.
Lesson plans about kindness, what it is, why it's good. Examples of kindness, heroes who show kindness. Share kindness info w/ parents and essentially present the same lesson plans. Recruit parents as partners. Kids who show kindness get leadership rewards, not necessarily material rewards, but public recognition, titles, maybe they get extra time out of the classroom doing whatever passes as fun.
posted by theora55 at 4:05 PM on May 4, 2010


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