By guest blogger Lucija Millonig
An anonymous Instagram account showing more than 70 nude pictures of Wake County, N.C., high school students has prompted a statewide investigation resulting in the arrest of at least one high school student charged with cyberbullying.
Sharing of the photos spread like wildfire once they were uploaded, attracting more than 7,000 followers. That was in February. Weeks later, North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation after a growing number of teenagers and parents complained about lewd photos found on different accounts across the social-networking site.
Investigators soon discovered the incident spread to as many as 13 counties involving 30 separate social media accounts. Authorities plan to seek felony charges for child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor against account holders, since the nude photos are of students as young as 14 years old.
To identify account holders, a subpoena request was made to Facebook, the owner of Instagram. Investigators said the accounts could eventually be closed, but the photos will never be deleted, as users could have already copied and saved them elsewhere.
This incident is not a new phenomenon as "sexting" and sending nude photos to others has become a more acceptable means of flirtation and communication among teens over the years. However, in this increasing social media age, minors are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions, experts pointed out.
This has sparked a debate among educators about the role of schools in teaching social media literacy. Durham Public Schools Spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson told WRAL that the district's school resource officers are planning an education campaign "to reiterate the seriousness and potentially life-changing consequences of unsafe behavior online."
A Pew Research Center study reveals that 93 percent of teens have an online presence. More shockingly, teens are sharing more personal information about themselves on social media sites than ever before. They are posting their real names, the schools they attend, home addresses, cellphone numbers, photos of themselves, and even their birth dates.