By Joshua Alvarez | Special to the Almanac
"I'm an activist against bullying. I have no tolerance for it," said Phaedra Carmen Saxon, a senior at Woodside High School. She and two dozen other student leaders from Woodside attended the Safer Internet Day conference on Facebook's Menlo Park campus Tuesday.
The goal of the event was to encourage student leaders from around the Bay Area to develop positive social environments on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. More than 400 students, teachers, parents, business representatives and public servants were in attendance.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg kicked off the event, telling the packed auditorium of young Facebook users: "Everything that has ever been invented has positive and negative effects. We all have to work together to use the Internet safely."
California Attorney General Kamala Harris gave the keynote address. Her office successfully prosecuted Kevin Bollaert, 28, of San Diego for running a "revenge porn" site where people posted nude pictures of their former romantic partners. He was convicted by a jury Feb. 2 and faces up to 20 years in prison.
"A crime committed against any one of us, is a crime against all of us," Ms. Harris said. "We must act as ambassadors for this message: If something bad happens to you online, you are not alone, there are other people who care about it. As a prosecutor, I know that when victims feel nobody cares, then they don't tell, and when they don't tell, it means bullies get away with it."
The rest of the afternoon was filled with panels featuring students, young activists, education experts, and social media industry leaders who addressed bullying and using social media to effect social change.
National PTA President Otha Thornton urged parents to become more involved. "Parents, you need to know the platforms your children are using," he said. "Parent tell me all the time that the online world can be so overwhelming. The conversation about online usage needs to start early. Kids should be learning online etiquette as early as when they are being taught to say 'please' and 'thank you.'"
The Woodside students are part of the school's "Leadership" class. "The class is made up of students in class government and those demonstrating leadership among their peers," said teacher Leslie With. "They are an organized group that serves as a bridge between administrators and the student body."
Students who are not elected class officers must apply for admission into the class. The class focuses on making Woodside High better, and the students use social media to achieve their goals, Ms. With said. For example, they created a "compliments page" on Facebook where Woodside students can post nice comments about their peers.
"Social media provides opportunities to do good and bad," said Woodside sophomore Gracie Greco. "I think we are sometimes oblivious to the bullying that happens right in front of us. My concern is how we can make people more aware."
"I felt the information was applicable beyond Internet security," said Woodside senior Nicholas Chiamos. "I was impressed by the civil rights activists."
At least one Woodside student did not walk away empty-handed. Adam Dean, a senior, won a brand new Chromebook laptop in a raffle. "I thought the conference was helpful," he said. "I learned new ways to be more supportive on the Internet. We'll definitely take some of these ideas back to Woodside. I found the opportunities Facebook provides for bringing communities together especially interesting."
Nonetheless, the Woodside students said they know that work remains to be done.
"Our biggest challenge is to encourage people to go out of their way to stop bullying," said Jessie Marguet, a junior. "People are not always going to be super positive about everything, and we need to fight the instinct to just stand by and watch as someone is bullied."