ELKHART — The Facebook photo shows a wide-eyed girl smiling broadly, braces on her teeth.
Above it, the message, full of vulgar language, is barely literate. But the gist is clear — it claims the young lady, her name included in the message, had sex with two guys at once one evening.
Another photo, also from Facebook, shows another young lady, also beaming brightly. The accompanying message, though, is anything but benign — she had sex with three people at the same time in a garage, it says.
Two anonymous Facebook sites — “Thots Around Elkhart” and “Elkhart Thots” — popped up on Saturday, May 17, taking aim at several young women from the area, detailing, in profane language, their alleged sexual activity, names included. Just as quickly, the sites were reported to Facebook and, by Tuesday, taken down.
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Reports can be made anonymously and Elkhart school officials follow up on the information they get, according to Mary Yoder Holsopple, bullying prevention coordinator for Elkhart schools.
"We need for students and parents to report those things to us," she said. "We can’t take care of what we don’t know."
Shawn Hannon, spokeswoman at Elkhart Community Schools, saw the sites before they were taken down and said students from the district were included among those targeted. The sites were made anonymously, so it’s not clear what follow-up action can be taken, if any.
But she was definitive in repudiating them.
“It certainly was inconsistent with what we would consider to be appropriate,” Hannon said. “It was vulgar. It’s terrible.”
The sites seem to reflect the emergence of a distinct form of cyberbullying in Elkhart County, use of anonymous Facebook pages dedicated to maligning individuals.
Indeed, neither Hannon nor Tim Tahara, an assistant superintendent at Concord Community Schools, could point to other similar cases. Mary Yoder Holsopple, bullying prevention coordinator for Elkhart schools, noted a malicious Twitter account earlier in the school year, but, like the others, couldn’t point to other local Facebook pages like the ones created last Saturday.
‘DEPENDS ON THE STUDENT’
Thot stands for That Ho Over There, according to UrbanDictionary.com. A Facebook search shows several sites from around the country with the acronym in the title.
In the case of the two Elkhart Facebook pages, young females were primarily targeted, some recent graduates of Elkhart high schools, according to their Facebook pages. But at least two young males were also targeted.
Yoder Holsopple echoed the frustration of Hannon. “The difficulty is these types of things go up and it’s posted anonymously. So it’s very difficult for anyone to do anything to find out who’s behind it,” she said.
Noted Tahara: The pages “illustrate one of the pitfalls of online technology — people will say things online that they wouldn’t dare say in a face-to-face setting.”
But Facebook policy on the matter is clear in not permitting bullying, described by the company as “being mean or hurtful in a way that scares or upsets someone else.” Facebook tools allow users to report improper posts and Facebook administrators will remove them, if merited.
Still, such pages can take a toll, no matter how quickly they’re detected and pulled.
In the two Elkhart pages, the young women targeted, in at least two instances, responded in the feeds about them, repudiating the charges. Many others, not targeted, repudiated the pages as well. Some who are “more emotionally fragile,” however, may not be able to brush off such things so easily.
"It definitely depends on the student,” Yoder Holsopple said.
In combating such things, Hannon encouraged parents and the general public to take an active, vigilant role. “The thing is, if you find it, you think it’s objectionable, report it,” she said.
On the bright side, Yoder Holsopple suspects those behind the Facebook pages don’t reflect the actions of most. Elkhart students, it turns out, reported the existence of the pages to school administrators.
“Most of the young people use the internet appropriately. It is a minority of young people who are abusing it in this way,” she said.
Reporter Lydia Sheaks contributed to this report.