Cyber bullying is at the center of conversation in our community this week after four teens are charged in connection with a Facebook Page. Experts say cyber bullying will have lasting impact, especially among teens, as online and social media bullying opens the conversation not only to peers, but to the whole world.
The creators of Panama City's Trashiest Facebook Page made a bold promise, "Report us and we'll just come back with more". But the site was quickly shut down and within days, Bay County investigators traced back the pages, interviewed dozens of people and made their arrests, forcing them to break that promise.
"A lot of these kids don't realize the severity, they don't realize how severe this is and sometimes they feel like they are anonymous and it can't be trade back to them, but in this case it was fairly easy to track it back," said Bay County Investigator Craig Romans.
15-year old Kyra Jeter, 16-year old Austin Hartley and 16-year old Austin Wilson were arrested on felony charges of aggravated cyber stalking. There is still a warrant out on the same charges for 18-year old Austin Lowe, who investigators say is the creator of the page.
"I can hardly think of anything more devastating for a person than to be held up and ridiculed especially in front of their own peers," said Julie Kitzerow, Program Director of Children's Services at The Life Management Center.
For Kitzerow, the affects of cyber bullying, like Panama City's Trashiest, brings concerns as she describes it as a public assault, and for teens, that assault may have a lasting impact.
That's why Kitzerow urges parents to be vigilant and know what their children are doing, especially online.
"Social networking is a wide open space and unless we exert some influence and understand how our children are using this it's a problem and this is a huge illustration of how damaging it can be," Kitzerow added.
Beginning Monday, the Bay County Sheriff's Office will hand out free software to parents called Computer Cop, which helps parents monitor what their children are doing online.