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Twitter Impersonation Ongoing Nightmare for Teen

Mother of 14-year-old high school student says her daughter has been harassed and humiliated via popular social networking site.

It all started when someone .

“They started inciting this other student to fight and saying things about [the student’s] father raping her and terrible, terrible sexual misconduct things,” Kerry Harrell said.

The tweets, which Harrell described as “shocking,” referenced a former friend of her daughter. Harrell’s daughter, who does not have a Twitter account, learned of the tweets from a friend.

“We looked it up and were like ‘Oh my God.’ This is vile,” Harrell said.

Harrell believes she knows who opened the account, but was unable to find proof so she reported the incident to Twitter.

“They took the first account and said that it was impersonation,” Harrell said. “Then this person, whoever it is, opened up two other accounts using [my daughter’s] name and picture.”

After realizing some of the people who followed the impersonator's Twitter account attended Mill Creek High School with her daughter, Harrell met with the school resource officer and asked him to look into the matter.

“And then those two accounts under [my daughter’s] name and picture miraculously and all of a sudden disappeared from the Internet,” she said.

Harrell said Twitter advised nothing could be done from their end at that point since the accounts had been taken down voluntarily.

In an attempt to prevent further harassment and discover who was responsible for the three fraudulent Twitter accounts, Harrell filed a report with the Gwinnett County Police Department. The case was forwarded to investigations, but the results were not what Harrell had hoped. Twitter refused to provide police with any information regarding the identity of the person who had created the original fraudulent account citing the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. 2701). Under this act, GCPD would be required to subpoena the information and show that it was evidentiary and necessary for the case.

According to GCPD public information officer Cpl. Ed Ritter, the district attorney’s office decided not to pursue the matter further.

“Our officers have done all they can do,” Ritter said.

Harrell feels more should be done. Harrell said she provided authorities with the names of the individuals who were following the account on Twitter. Harrell also learned that the IP address of the person who created the first account is associated with an iPhone.

“We’re just trying to put all the pieces together,” she said.

In the meantime, Harrell said her daughter continues to be the subject of harassment -- most recently from the mother of the other girl targeted in the explicit tweets.

“She has approached her at football games, has called and left messages with my ex-husband saying she’s going to sue our family,” Harrell said.

Though Harrell tried to explain that an impersonator had posted the tweets, the mother of the other girl has been unwilling to listen.

“She just won’t believe us,” Harrell said.

The problems have not ended there. Harrell said her daughter has suffered greatly and has not wanted to go to school and face those who have harassed and humiliated her.

“We’re hoping that whoever it is that continues to open them up has gotten bored with it and won’t do it again,” Harrell said. “But it goes to show just how complicated it is to prove the wrong.”

Adding to her frustration is what Harrell describes as Gwinnett County Public Schools’ ineffective anti-bullying policy

“Let me tell you this, if I could move, I would move out of Gwinnett County,” she said. “I have never dealt with people so ignorant in all of my life.”

Harrell said school officials were dismissive of her concerns about the explicit tweets and told her it was not unusual for young people to use obscene words and phrases in their communications.

“I cannot believe how uncaring and how jaded they are,” she said.

School officials and the school resource officer interviewed Harrell’s daughter and several other students, but no disciplinary action was taken.

Jorge Quintana, director of media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said the issue was not a school issue, but one involving students outside of school.

“While disciplinary action has not been taken regarding this off-campus matter, the administration of Mill Creek High and the school resource officer have provided support,” Quintana said in an emailed statement. “They have discussed this issue with the students in an effort to prevent this issue from becoming a disruption at school.”

Quintana added the school resource officer and the administration will assist in the investigation in any way they can.

Harrell remains skeptical of the school system’s efforts to date.

“They don’t take any of this seriously,” Harrell said. “They’re doing it to cover themselves.”

Harrell, however, takes the matter very seriously and is determined to find out who is responsible for impersonating her daughter online.

“I don’t want them to get away with it. I don’t. I’m going to push until I find out who it is and what I can do next,” she said. “I’m just not going to give up.”

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING HARRASED ON TWITTER

From Twitter’s website:

What happens if my child is being harassed on Twitter? Twitter is great because it allows users to communicate directly with each other, but just as in school or on the playground, there are a few people who want to ruin things for everyone else.

If your child is receiving unwanted communications from another Twitter user, we generally recommend that he or she block that user and end any communication. Ending communication with bullies shows them that you are not willing to engage with them, and often they lose interest. It also demonstrates to others that your child is not involved in similar behavior and that he or she is acting against bullying.

Many bullying or harassment issues online usually start from problems offline. Blocking prevents a user from following your child’s Tweets and can minimize incentives to persist in the bullying conduct online. This help page on blocking shows you how to block other users. Twitter believes that bullying is a serious issue and we have provided all users with the ability to block other users.

That said, since online harassment is usually rooted in "real world" relationships, blocking another user is sometimes just a temporary fix. Determined bullies may create new accounts on Twitter and other social media services, so sometimes it is more helpful to deal with the person or issue offline by working with school officials, the bully’s parents, or other local authorities.

When emailed with a request to comment on the Harrell's situation, Twitter responded with the following:

Hi DaculaPatch,

Thanks for your inquiry. We are a small communications team based in San Francisco within a growing global company. Due to the high volume of requests we receive, unfortunately, we are not able to respond to many inquiries. When our team grows, we'll be able to respond in a more timely manner. For now, we will capture your contact information so that we can be in touch in the future.

In the meantime, follow @Twitter for news, interesting user stories, and updated stats about the company. Note that we currently only release global metrics and do not break out usage data on a country-by-country basis.

Thanks,
Twitter Comms

The Dish September 23, 2011 at 01:14 PM
How can Gwinnett Co Schools say that this is an 'off-campus' matter when the girl is being harassed at school and at football games at the school? That doesn't seem like 'off-campus' to me. Mrs. Harrell is right in pursuing this matter. I hope she gets the answers that she's looking for and REAL help from the school, Gwinnett Co School administrators, and local law enforcement. So far, it appears all the outlets that are supposed to have zero tolerance for bullying are just full of hot air. Best of luck to the Harrell family!
Colleen Walsh Fong September 23, 2011 at 02:17 PM
It is interesting that technical giants such as google and all its components hide behind electronic communication, allowing no voice to voice contact when problems arise. I find it hard to believe that twitter cannot trace the ip address to determine definitively who set up the accounts. I would send this to one of the locally filmed court/crime shows on HLN and see if it gets any play there. When kids are committing suicide in record numbers, situations such as these need to be handled aggressively so that the truth is brought to light and all parties held accountable for their actions, or pardoned for being wrongly accused.
Cynthia Montgomery September 23, 2011 at 03:28 PM
What creates cyber bullies? Who teaches this kind of behavior? Follow the Patch story on, "Are You Raising a Bully? It is time for new laws on the books about this type of abuse. If the offending parties parents are saying. "This is just kid stuff!" they are a huge part of the problem. Identify the offending party and bring these MEAN girls out into the open as they gain their power from HIDING IN THE SHADOWS! Identify the parents of the bully and see how quick they clear up this "KIS STUFF" that their teen is producing. It is normally a bully being encouraged on by others that are weak in their developing personalities and so they hurt others by attaching themselves to a sicker personality. MEAN GIRLS are usually being abused by parents of some on in the home. MEAN PARENTS don't see it as a problem because it is normal behavior for them to be MEAN!!!! Has anyone every described you as MEAN? What does that mean to your children. Again, it is time to bring our laws into the 21 century. The Harrell Family need to be the burr under the saddle of Twitter Comm until they get the name of the bully and then identify them to the school and in the mean time talk with our representative Donna Sheldon about a new cyber bullying law. Other states already have them in place. It is time for Georgia to rise up and protect our children from sick children being raised by sick parents.
Jimmy Orr September 23, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Great post, Mrs. C. You beat me to the proverbial punch with your comments which are "spot on." BTW, you have been doing some excellent journalism in your Patch blogs. Keep it up. I enjoy reading them. I am like Colleen though in that the Harrell family needs to pursue this matter further. Perhaps at the Federal law enforcement level.
mchawk September 23, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Has anyone thought about the one student who was called out on this matter? The one whose father "raped" her several times. Isn't she the victim as well?? Where is the justice for her?? It's one thing for girls to call each other names or to insult them either behind the computer or in person, but when one person (impersonated or not) says something as disgusting and slanderous as this person did to the other student, where is the compassion for that young lady??
North Georgia Weather September 23, 2011 at 09:03 PM
They can get it. It just takes a subpoena to do it and at that point it comes down to the laws. I know that last school year we had an incident at a school here in Dacula where the Gwinnett School Police had to get involved. A subpoena to an ISP and Facebook and that's all it took. And I mean one day. So they do take it VERY seriously. There is a grey area between how far the school system can go and where the police kick in because each situation is different. You have to understand that it's not the school systems responsibility to police every child when they're not in school, there's just no way. But they do make every effort to investigate to their fullest, each reported incident. In order for everyone to be more aggressive in stopping these things from happening, the laws will have to be better defined I'm afraid. From what I understand, they are very vague at best.

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