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What the bleep are people saying on TV?
Anthony Orsini sent an e-mail blast to the Benjamin Franklin Middle School community in Ridgewood, New Jersey, on Wednesday, urging parents to take down their children’s online profiles on Facebook and elsewhere.
“There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!,” he wrote. “Let me repeat that – there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!”
After issuing a rallying cry –“It is time for every single member of the [school] Community to take a stand!” — Orsini enumerated the reasons he opposes social-networking by his students.
The main problem, he wrote, is that tweens do not have the resilience to withstand internet name-calling.
“They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause,” he said.
His school’s guidance counselors for years now have been mediating spats that originated online, Orsini said. The last straw for him was students’ growing use of Formspring, a social-networking upstart where members ask and answer questions about one another.
Orsini singled out the site for scorn in his e-mail to Ben Franklin Middle School parents, calling it a “scourge” that exists “simply to post mean things about people anonymously.”
“The nicest thing you see [on it] is, ‘Jane is a slut,'” he said In a phone interview with CNN.
Formspring did not reply to a request for comment on the principal’s campaign.
A Facebook spokesman pointed out that many middle school-age children are formally barred from the site. “We prohibit children under the age of 13 from using Facebook both for safety reasons and to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” the spokesman said.
In his e-mail, Orsini also warned parents that the casual cruelty of an unsupervised 12-year-old online is a more realistic threat to their children than the oft-raised specter of sexual predators.
“The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites,” he wrote.
In recent years Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites have been blamed for the suicides of teenage girls in Missouri, Massachusetts and New York. Parents complained the girls were traumatized by nasty comments posted on the sites.
Inez Bunda, the parent of a student at the Ridgewood, New Jersey, school, said she agreed with the principal’s point, but her daughter was “completely up in arms” when she broached the possibility of shutting down her Facebook account Wednesday. She said she remains hopeful they can hammer out “an amicable solution.”
Orsini says that, on the whole, parental response to his e-mail has been overwhelmingly positive, and that parents as far away as Israel and Korea have e-mailed him to say, “thank you for saying something.”
Fans of Orsini’s zero-tolerance philosophy toward student social-networking can also friend him on Facebook, of which he is a member.