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Internet bullying

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Other times, it's a website. Some circulate rumors, ask students to vote on the ugliest or fattest kid in school, or focus on one individual. When Will, a middle-schooler in Kansas, broke up with his girlfriend, she created a website devoted to smearing him.

She outlined vivid threats, made up vicious rumors, and described what it would be like to see him torn apart.

Unflattering images

Photos are ammunition, too. Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists, often cites the young woman he met who had a falling out with a boy. In a fit of anger, he used photo-editing tools to paste her face onto a pornographic photo and sent it to his entire e-mail list.

"It was emotionally devastating for her," says Dr. Feinberg.

The perpetrator was known, at least, in situations like the previous two. In Will's case, his mother went to the principal, the website came down, and the girl got counseling and was transferred to another school.

In other cases, however, schools feel helpless. Free-speech rights can make it difficult to take down a website, bullies are often anonymous, and most of the harassment takes place off school property. After the school shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, many schools began looking at bullying as a serious problem, and some instituted zero-bullying policies. But cyberspace is a new territory, and schools aren't sure how far to extend their jurisdiction.

J. Guidetti, principal of Calabasas High School, did get involved, after comments on schoolscandals.com caused many of his students to be depressed, angry, or simply unable to focus on school.

"It might have been happening off campus," says Mr. Guidetti, "but the effects carry on into the school day.... Our school had the most postings of any school in southern California. It became a snowball effect, like a real-life soap opera. It became this culture of its own, and got very hurtful very quickly."

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