WILKES-BARRE – A college scholarship lost because of insults posted on Facebook; a student arrested after an Internet threat intended to stop online bullying; a life lost to suicide because friends who knew about cyberbullying remained silent.
Janene Holter of the state Attorney General's Office rattled off real-world examples of how impulsive Internet postings can change lives, and kept stressing one point to Coughlin High School students Tuesday.
"Words mean something," the senior supervisory special agent told the crowd of students. "It depends on the content, it depends on who reads them."
And in the age of texting and social media, the person who posts often can't control who reads it and how they perceive it.
Holter is presenting similar assemblies at all three Wilkes-Barre high schools and at Solomon/Plains Memorial Junior High throughout the week. She said the presentations are a free service from the Attorney General's Office, and urged other districts interested in hosting such assemblies to email her at [email protected].
"How do you represent yourself on Facebook?" she asked the students. "If a total stranger looked at your page, what kind of image are you presenting."
Holter recounted the story of a high school graduate who had a college scholarship locked up, enjoyed a game of basketball with friends and some strangers, and then decided to post insults aimed at one of those strangers on his Facebook page. College officials saw it, called him in, and told him the scholarship was canceled.
"If you wouldn't want it said about you or written about you, don't say it or write it," Holter said. "Facebook will follow you for the rest of your life."
Holter played videos of a girl who, at age 13, was mercilessly bullied online by others. Rather than tell adults, she and a friend tried to bully back, ultimately posting an online threat to bring a gun to school. "She thought it would scare them," Holter said.
A parent saw the post and told police, who came to school and arrested the girl for making terroristic threats.
Holter played a video of a mother and close friend of a boy who was bullied so much online he hanged himself in his bedroom closet late one night. Five close friends knew of the bullying but never told an adult.
"His mother said he needed a hero," Holter said. "I say he needed a voice, someone to speak up for him."