PORTLAND, Ore. - Someone has been using Instagram to anonymously harass a middle school girl and her friends with graphic, and even sexually violent, messages.
The girl goes to da Vinci Middle School in Northeast Portland and even though Portland Public Schools tried to get involved, they found frustration when dealing with the social media platform that's owned by Facebook. The school district initially tried contacting Instagram and Facebook, but didn't get an immediate response.
"It took Instagram seven days to get back to us," said Portland Public Schools spokesperson Christine Miles. "And we just feel that's not OK. When you have a minor, especially middle schoolers that are receiving graphic messages, that should be taken down immediately."
Instagram did send the following statement to KATU late Tuesday:
"Instagram has a clear set of community guidelines that make it clear what is and isn't allowed, and this includes prohibiting content that bullies or harasses. We encourage people to report bullying using the built-in reporting tools next to every photo or video on Instagram, and to consult the information in our Help Center that addresses bullying prevention. We have a team that is dedicated to reviewing and responding to the reports we receive, and we prioritize reports of bullying."
Portland police are taking this cyber bullying seriously, but they say cases like these can take time.
"As investigators, we contact the company and get a subpoena from the district attorney, send it to the legal department, they review and pull the records and we review it," said Sgt. Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau. "And the investigator has to take it to a grand jury. So there's a process involved that takes time."
Police did get a useful lead from Instagram about who is behind the threatening messages and it's now up to the district attorney to prosecute. But keep in mind, since these are likely children involved, there is a good chance they will not be prosecuted. Cyber bullying cases involving children are handled differently than if an adult was sending these types of messages.
What Can Parents Do About Cyber Bullying?
The number one thing you can do as a parent is to become as tech savvy as possible. Know what applications your child is using and then create your own accounts so you can monitor their online activity.
You should be the administrator on every computer your child uses. You can give them an account, but remain in control by reviewing their browser history and approving downloads.
Also, keep an eye on those web cams. There's a trend called 'ratting' where a malicious application takes hold of a computer's web cam, which allows them to spy on you. The ratting refers to Remote Administration Tools that allow hackers to get inside your computer.
Watch for that green light that tells you a web cam is in use. If you didn't turn it on, someone else did and they might be watching you. You can tape over the camera when it's not in use to block the view if someone does hack into your computer.
Ratting can also lead to someone else getting your passwords or posting to your social media account. Ken Westin, a security researcher we talked to, said it's becoming more prominent among teens.
"It's really about control," Westin said. "They're going to take that information and try to blackmail them."
Despite all these tips, the bottom line in all of this is that there is no full-proof way to avoid cyber bullying.
"There's really no way to completely, 100 percent, make sure your kids are safe online," Westin said. "You can't really do that with technology. It has to be through education."