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Bay Area school leaders, law enforcement call for action against cyberbullying

ABC 7 San Francisco 11/30/2022 KGO
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This Cyber Monday, lawmakers and local leaders shined a light on cyberbullying.

It's a problem that is continuing to grow and now they're calling on social media companies to do better.

School leaders and law enforcement came together at East Palo Alto Academy calling for more action to combat the growing threat of cyberbullying across the state and country.

"Unfortunately, social media has now made it impossible to escape bullying," said Gina Sudaria, superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District.

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Students at East Palo Alto academy were hit especially hard last year when a "burn book" circulated -- that's a forum for others to say cruel things about people's appearance and background.

The district made multiple attempts to take the page down, but new ones kept popping up.

"Eight times we were terrorized," said the school's principal Amika Guillaume, "Eight times someone's child was not allowed to come to school because they felt unsafe."

The page is now down. District officials still don't know who was behind the page, but they've called on local leaders to help them move forward.

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"I'm working on legislation to hold social media companies accountable and mandate that they have easily accessible tools that allow parents and school leaders to be able to have cyberbullying removed from social media platforms," said State Senator Josh Becker.

ABC7 reached out to TikTok, Twitter and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

Meta got back and said they couldn't comment on the proposed legislation, but did direct ABC7 to background on how they prevent bullying and harassment on its platforms, saying that it removes that kind of content when it finds it.

Becker and the school leaders say it is important to act quickly.

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"The longer this material is up, the more damage is done," Becker said, "And what we also heard (from school leaders) is that when these companies were small, this material would come down more quickly, generally, almost always, within 24 hours. Now, it can be days, weeks, even longer."

San Jose State tech expert Ahmed Banafa says other tech companies have already proven they can moderate their platforms in real-time.

"Other apps like DoorDash, if I have a problem, they have me on chat with somebody right away, because money is involved. They don't want to lose me as a customer," he said, "But we'll look at the social media platforms, we are actually the product. We are not the customers."

Right now, the hope is that better partnerships with social media companies can be fostered as easily and effectively as possible.

"We're hoping that they will hear us here today, and they will listen and work with us on a solution that maybe we don't need legislation," Becker said.

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