School Climate & Safety

Web Site That Fed On Student Rumors Shuts Down

By Catherine Gewertz — March 14, 2001 3 min read

A Web site where scores of Southern California teenagers posted cruel rumors about their peers has been closed down, ending a painful demonstration of how the Internet can amplify the impact of free speech.

The site, www.school-rumors.com, was launched in December, but its popularity soared suddenly in the past few weeks. In the two weeks before its March 2 shutdown, it received more than 70,000 visits.

The company that hosted the site, Invite Internet Inc. of Denver, had received telephone and e-mail complaints, but shut the site down because of a disparity between its registration and billing addresses, the company’s executive director, Rainey Schuyler, said.

Mr. Schuyler would not disclose who began the site. He said that Invite Internet requires clients to abide by an “acceptable use” policy guiding site content, and that it was unclear whether the operator of schoolrumors.com had violated the policy.

“We don’t monitor each site’s content,” Mr. Schuyler said. “That gets into a very sketchy area. We’re not in the business of censorship.”

Most rumors concerned students at schools in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. Visitors to the site could click on postings about a particular school to see what had been written about students there. As is common on the Web, those wishing to post could do so under fictitious names.

One girl, a junior at Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., received numerous harassing phone calls after someone called her “a slut” and “a whore” and posted her name, address, and phone number, said Allan Weiner, the principal of the 2,700-student school.

Another student at the school, a senior from India, became suicidal after a posting detailed her alleged sexual skills. The girl told friends that she feared she would be ostracized in her community or expelled from the country if people heard about it, Mr. Weiner said.

Other postings on the site reportedly included racist and anti-gay statements. Mr. Weiner said he had asked the webmaster for the Los Angeles Unified School District to block access to the site from school computers.

“This is a new day and age,” he said. “We’re used to dealing with graffiti on the walls and bathroom doors, but this is so public. People can see it from anywhere. We’re doing everything we can to protect our kids, and we’re frustrated.”

More Cases Expected

Mark Goodman, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to student journalists, predicted many more controversies over similar Web sites—of which he said there are thousands—but said legal actions to halt them would be hard to win.

“We forget we live in a society where people have the right to say hurtful things, and that doesn’t mean you have a right to stop them or sue them for it,” he said. “Students spreading rumors is an old story, but people are reacting more strongly now because it’s on the Internet.”

Because the Internet audience is potentially vast, online libel lawsuits offer the possibility of larger monetary awards, Mr. Goodman said.

More and more, legal cases are beginning to test the issue of free speech in the Internet age, and legal experts say the defining line can be whether the comments constitute a threat.

In Bethlehem, Pa., a student who had his own Web site was expelled after posting threatening comments about his mathematics teacher. A jury awarded the teacher $500,000 for invasion of privacy.

In Utah, a high school student was expelled after calling his principal “the town drunk,” referring to classmates as “sluts,” and speculating about faculty members’ homosexuality and drug use on his Web site.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Web Site That Fed On Student Rumors Shuts Down

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Interactive Which Districts Have Cut School Policing Programs?
Which districts have taken steps to reduce their school policing programs or eliminate SRO positions? And what do those districts' demographics look like? Find out with Education Week's new interactive database.
A police officer walks down a hall inside a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Michael Blann/Digital/Vision; Kristen Prahl/iStock/Getty Images Plus )
School Climate & Safety These Districts Defunded Their School Police. What Happened Next?
Six profiles of districts illustrate the tensions, successes, and concerns that have accompanied the changes they've made to their school police programs over the last year.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School Climate & Safety Defunded, Removed, and Put in Check: School Police a Year After George Floyd
Education Week has identified 40 school districts that defunded their police after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests.
Police officer outside of a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (image: Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock)
School Climate & Safety Biden Team to Revisit How Schools Should Ensure Racial Equity in Discipline
The Trump administration pulled a directive on fair discipline for students of color. Biden's Education Department will review the issue.
4 min read
a student sits alone in a hallway
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Image: DigitalVision)