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Twitter polls blamed for cyber-bullying at Utah school

(File Photo)

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ROOSEVELT — A new feature that allows Twitter users to post poll questions on their accounts has been used to bully students at Union High School, according to a Duchesne County School District administrator.

Scott Forsyth, the district's director of student services, said Friday that Twitter is helping the district shut down at least two accounts that have engaged in the "targeted harassment" of Union High students.

"As a district, we don't want to be policing social media," Forsyth said. "But when it interferes with the learning environment and impacts student safety, we're going to take action."

Tweets from both accounts show polls that ask people to rate the body parts of specific Union High students, vote on an individual student's perceived level of sexual activity, or comment on the status of their relationships with other students.

Twitter suspended one account late Thursday night or early Friday morning for violating its terms of service, Forsyth said. Another account, which features pictures and logos associated with Union High, is also expected to be suspended, he said.

Union High sophomore Kamri Campbell said the poll feature Twitter announced in late October was initially seen as a way to have fun. The first question she remembers was one that asked if LeBron James was a better basketball player than one of her classmates.

"It was just funny," Campbell said, "and then it got cruel."

Campbell, who is the reigning Miss Eastern Utah Outstanding Teen and promotes character education for youth through her platform, points to one poll question in particular as the turning point.

"The question was: Who is smarter, this student or a brick?" Campbell said. "And that's really when everything started going downhill. That's when everyone started sending in mean tweets."

Campbell admits that she submitted her own suggestions for poll questions to the anonymously run Twitter accounts. But as the poll questions became offensive and more personal, she said she decided to stop.

"This isn't just kids being kids," Campbell said. "This is kids being mean. You can see kids getting revenge on other kids through the polls.

"It's definitely kids you go to school with," she added, "because it's rumors and it's everyone's deepest darkest secrets."

Campbell said she decided to take action this week after a new poll question was posted about her. She took screenshots of a number of the Twitter polls and posted the photos on her Facebook page.

"I think parents should know that this is what's going on at the high school," said Campbell, adding that she has already heard about similar Twitter polls circulating at other high schools in Utah.

Union High Principal Rick Nielsen said the school has no connection to or control over the polls. That hasn't stopped parents calling the school with concerns about what is being posted, Nielsen said. He said he hopes Twitter can shut the accounts down before one of the polls leads to tragedy.

"A lot of kids are really positive and don't have any problems," Nielsen said. "Others are really struggling and if kids only knew that, they wouldn't say or post the things that they're saying."

Campbell, who has lost a close friend to suicide, said she wants those who voted on the poll questions to hear that message too.

"If we keep giving them attention and voting on these, it's just going to get bigger and more mean," she said.

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Geoff Liesik


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