Painful taunts hurled at the most innocent among us – that’s the call to attention this month, as October is recognized as “National Bullying Prevention Month.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 percent of children in the United States have been bullied or have bullied someone else. It’s a growing concern as the popularity for websites like Facebook continue to increase.
That concern is exemplified in the story of Adalia Rose and her mother Natalia Amozurrutia.
Adalia harbors the same quality as any other 5-year-old girl. She adores playing dress up and performing for a crowd, where sometimes the crowd numbers nearly five million people.
That’s how many people have liked her Facebook page that her mother just created earlier this year. The goal? To cast a light on what Adalia was born with: a rare and terminal condition called Progeria, which speeds up the aging in children.
Doctors diagnosed Adalia just three months after she was born near Austin, Tex. Support spread quickly – but so did the cyber-bullying. Thousands of people on several different Facebook pages decided to aim their insults at Adalia and her appearance. Mom was furious.
“At first I was very angry, at first, I was very upset and I didn’t understand what is wrong with these people?”
That outrage spread quickly across the country to 33-year-old Jaclyn Barlow, a stranger who lives in Maine. She said there was no other choice but to take immediate action, even though she lives so far away and has never personally met Adalia.
“There are people who are putting sexual captions on pictures of a 5-year-old, and that is allowed?” Barlow asked. “They are actually saying things about wanting her dying, wanting to hurt her, wanting to deface her.”
Barlow says she and a group of other mothers are just a handful among hundreds of people who’ve been reporting those pages and pictures to Facebook. She says there was essentially no response from Facebook.
Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens says the company has the obligation to protect the freedom of expression for all of its nearly one billion users worldwide. Wolens adds the company considers the pages “controversial humor” and not “hate speech.”
Wolens says the best the company can do is warn that perhaps not everyone will find the page in question so funny. It falls under the “Facebook Community Standards” which defines medical condition as one of the factors considered off-limits under hate speech. However, under the “bullying and harassment” section you get the answer for Adalia’s situation. The guidelines read in part, “We allow users to speak freely on matter and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals.”
That means because Adalia has a “public figure” Facebook page, according to the company, its hands are tied.
Barlow wasn’t satisfied. She tracked down one of the page administrators to a San Jose high school, contacting six administrators in the Campbell Union High School District – and got no response.
But Heidi Reyes, CUHSD director of student services, says somehow the administrators never got Barlow’s messages. Reyes added she couldn’t find a student matching the name provided, nor any similar names. She does admit cyber-bullying limits has become a hot topic among campuses everywhere. The question remains: What power do school districts have when it comes to intervening in cyber-bullying?
“In speaking to our attorney and other attorneys , until it gets challenged, it’s hard to tell.”
For Adalia’s mother and her family, the responsibility doesn’t fall on Facebook nor the schools – it falls on the parents.
“I will turn blue with saying that – educate, educate your kids,” Amozurrutia said.