Facebook and Md. schools partner to combat bullying

Facebook and Maryland's school systems will pilot an initiative next year that should help make it easier to have offensive or hurtful language on the social media site taken down.

The effort to combat cyber bullying was started by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who announced the new initiative, called the Educator Escalation Channel, at a meeting Thursday with school district superintendents.


Under the initiative, Facebook will help educate school systems on better ways to combat cyber bullying and give them a channel to the social media giant to report offensive behavior.

"When there is clear cyber bullying going on, then getting that language taken off Facebook as quickly as possible" is important, Gansler said.


Each school district will designate one person to work directly with Facebook. If a posting is deemed to be bullying, school officials will go through the regular process of reporting the abuse by clicking on the small arrow on a post and following the directions.

If Facebook has not responded to the concern within 24 hours, then the school system can send a message to a dedicated email site that will be checked around the clock by Facebook employees, said Matt Steinfeld, a spokesman for the social media site.

Dale Rauenzahn, Baltimore County's executive director of school safety and security, said he has sometimes had difficulty helping parents and guidance counselors try to get posts taken down. And even as a top school official in the Baltimore County school system, Rauenzahn said, he has been stymied in contacting social media companies.

"We have tried to contact the vendors directly, and it is very difficult to get the right person," he said, adding that school officials are often passed around or he has been told something must be reviewed by lawyers first.

The difficulty has arisen, he said, even when he and the county police have worked collaboratively. A dedicated portal that allows officials to speak with someone at Facebook would be greatly appreciated, he said, adding that he hopes the idea is picked up by other social media companies.

The initiative was announced just two days after Grace's Law took effect in Maryland. The law, named for Grace McComas, a 15-year-old who took her life in April 2012 after repeated online harassment, will make online harassment or bullying a misdemeanor.

Gansler said the new initiative is designed not only to save lives, but also to help those young people who are caused pain because of bullying.

"We do hear about the suicides. What we don't hear about are the hundreds of thousands of children who are thrown into emotional distress by cyber bullying," he said.


Gansler, a Democrat in his second term as attorney general, is running for governor in 2014.