POLICE have issued a warning to schoolchildren after hundreds of pupils across the region signed up to Facebook sites used to post vile abuse.
Officers have been telling pupils to take their names and comments off so-called ‘burn’ pages, where youngsters write abusive messages – many of them sexual – about their schoolmates.
Police estimate as many as 700 students in the area covered by The News are involved in the sites, which are inspired by the cult film Mean Girls, in which students write nasty gossip in a ‘burn book’.
So far, eight of the pages have been shut down after police and schools contacted Facebook.
But some, including one for the Portsmouth area, are still running.
Police have warned that pupils who continue to use the pages could face investigation and prosecution.
At Park Community School in Leigh Park, 50 students were members of a ‘Hampshire burn’ page.
Three students – a former male pupil, a Year 11 boy and a Year 10 girl – were victims of particularly depraved sexual comments.
Deputy head Sue Walker said: ‘Last week it came to my attention there were a number of “burn” sites – “Hampshire Burn”, “Leigh Park Burn” and others.
‘I had 178 pages of the Hampshire Burn site downloaded and it was deeply unpleasant stuff.
‘I knew immediately this was something that could get out of control and that we had to act quickly.’
Miss Walker called on schools officer PC Justine Lewis, who has been holding assemblies around the consequences of being involved in such sites – in particular, charges of harassment and assault that could result in up to two years’ imprisonment.
PC Lewis, who confirmed the issue had been reported as a police incident, said students had been given a short amnesty over the weekend to withdraw their names and comments.
She said: ‘We don’t want to criminalise children, but if they don’t take themselves off we will be calling them in individually, talking to parents and then considering criminal charges.
‘This is a difficult area to police but I’m pleased schools have taken action and safer neighbourhood teams are working closely with their schools.’
A ‘Purbrook Burn’ site came to the attention of Purbrook Park School’s new head on his first day in the job.
Paul Foxley called an assembly with all 40 pupils identified as having joined the site – and a Year 11 girl who admitted to setting it up took it down the same day.
He said: ‘I made it clear to the students that their online safety was extremely important to me.
‘I won’t tolerate any rude comments online or in person. As a result, a girl owned up to setting it up and it was gone in a day. She was very remorseful but we did give her a five-day internal exclusion as it was a serious mistake on her part.’
A Facebook spokeswoman said anyone concerned about online bullying should contact the site immediately so their dedicated team can investigate.
Advice to prevent online bullying
PREVENTION is the best cure to avoid cyber-bullying, according to an online expert.
Shaun Kelly, head of safeguarding at Action for Children, says parents of children aged 13 and above – the legal age at which you can join sites like Facebook – should help their children create privacy settings to give good protection.
In the event that a youngster becomes a target for bullies, they should either inform a parent, teacher, adult or local police.
Alternatively, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, found at ceop.police.uk and beatbullying.org have lots of information, advice and counselling around cyber-bullying issues.
Mr Kelly said: ‘There are lots of people you can turn to for help, if you know how.’