Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined executives from Facebook and Time Warner on Thursday to encourage students and parents to sign an anti-bullying pledge.
In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, O’Malley spoke in front of hundreds of students at Arundel High School, asking them to do their part in stopping harassment of young people, particularly through the use of online platforms such as Facebook.
“The Internet’s given your generation an amazing ability to connect that we never had before,” O’Malley said. “But the issue is how we choose to use that connection. We can choose to use it to be cruel … or we can choose to be good.”
O’Malley was joined by his wife, Judge Katie O'Malley, along with Joel Kaplan, vice president of U.S. public policy for Facebook, and Stuart Snyder, the president of Time Warner’s Cartoon Network.
“We know that safety on our site is critical, because if kids and teenagers like you and everybody else on the site don’t feel safe, they’re not going to want to come there,” Kaplan said. “They’re not going to want to share, they’re not going to want to connect.”
Facebook and Time Warner announced the “Stop Bullying, Speak Up Pledge” in September. So far, more than 48,000 people have signed the pledge on Facebook.
Ali Sepasyar and Jackson Rogow of the Cartoon Network show Dude, What Would Happen? were on hand Thursday to promote the pledge.
The issue of bullying has received new attention in the last year after several suicides involving gay and transgender teens who had been harassed in school and online. Last month, Jamey Rodemeyer, an openly gay 14-year-old from Buffalo, NY, killed himself after what his parents said was chronic bullying from classmates.
Snyder cited statistics from the National Education Association claiming that 160,000 students in United States miss school every day because they are afraid of a bully. He said 282,000 students are physically attacked by a bully each month.
O’Malley said there were 3,818 cases of bullying in Maryland last year, a figure he said is probably lower than the actual total because most cases aren’t reported.
Maryland is one of seven states with laws addressing bullying. In 2005, the state passed the Safe Schools Reporting Act, which calls for standardized reporting of bullying incidents.
Arundel High students said bullying is not widespread at the school, but it does happen.
“I personally haven’t seen it that often, but if I did I would definitely step in and stop it,” said Christian Hodges, a sophomore at Arundel High and chief of staff at the Cheseapeake Regional Association of Student Councils. “But I know that it goes on and I know that it’s an issue. It’s up to us to step in and say ‘it’s not OK.’ It should be socially unacceptable.”
Arundel High has supported several student organizations designed to prevent bullying, including a group known as STEP-UP.
School administrators said parents need to become more involved and recognize when bullying is happening. Thursday's assembly was also used as a kickoff to Family Engagement Month.
“Bullying prevention and parental involvement are essential to the well-being of our school,” said Arundel High Principal Sharon Stratton, who promised to join Facebook in order to sign the pledge. “We are committed to making sure our school is safe, friendly and that it is a collaborative place where students can learn and be successful.”