Principal drops suit against MySpace after students come forward for making fake profile

ALASKA — An Alaska high school principal has dropped a lawsuitagainst MySpace to determine who created a fake profile page in her name afterthe students who made the Web site confessed.

Cyd Duffin, principal of Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska, said astudent tipped her off to a fake MySpace profile created of her last fall.Though MySpace deleted the page per Duffin’s request, she filed suitagainst the social networking company after employees refused to revealinformation about who created the page.

After the suit against MySpace recently gained media attention, the twostudents responsible for the page confessed to Duffin. They were punished– though Duffin did not say what sanctions they received. She said the twostudents “learned a valuable lesson that wasn’t toopainful.”

“I did not want to make it into a bigger deal than it was,”Duffin said. “All I wanted to do was hold the kids accountable for theiractions.”

The site showed a picture of Duffin taken from the school’s Web siteand another altered to show her wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. The site said Duffinhad sexually transmitted diseases, and was a drug user, bi-sexual slut and”the high priestess of the KKK.”

But the MySpace profile also targeted minority and disabled students atColony High School. The page said the school had “too many Negros, Asiansand Mexican immigrants … mother-fornicating Mexicans,” Duffin said. Thesite made comments about deaf students, including, “God damn I hatethem,” according to Duffin.

Duffin said the comments directed towards Colony High School students arewhat motivated her to determine who created the page and punish them.

“As a high school principal, you better have thick skin. Kids aregoing to make fun of you,” she said. “But when they targeted ourminority kids and our disabled kids, I really felt like I had to standup.”

Under current Alaska law, Duffin could not ask law enforcement officials toinvestigate because state law does not make online harassment illegal. There isalso no law that prohibits cyberbullying.

Since MySpace was unwilling to reveal the page’s creators and localpolice could not launch a probe into the matter, Duffin filed a civil suitagainst MySpace on March 19 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where thecompany is located.

Duffin said she knew the battle would be tricky, but felt she hadjurisdiction over the incident since it “came into the schooldoors.” Though Colony High School’s Internet filter prevents themfrom accessing MySpace, students were viewing the fake profile on their iPhonesor Blackberrys, and it was the topic of conversations for weeks. In December,the Knightly News, the school’s student newspaper, wrote afront-page story about the fake profile.

“You’re really on thin ice, if even that, when you talk aboutthings that kids create on their own time, by their own means, from home,”Duffin said. “But I think when it walks in the door and directly dealswith the kids inside your building … and portrays our school as somewhere thatis unwelcoming to [the minority/disabled] student population, there isdefinitely a problem with it.”

After the students confessed to making the page, Duffin said it appeared tobe “just a prank gone awry.”

“Their explanation was they were just having fun, got carried awayand realized too late that they had crossed the line,” she said.

Duffin said Internet pranks and harassment are not things that students can”tear up and make go away.” While she was able to get MySpace toremove the fake page, once content like that is posted it “kind of has aninfinite life,” she said.

After the initial student notified her of the page, a man searching MySpacefor someone to date stumbled up on the profile and called the school. Duffinsaid it is “scary” that anyone could have found the page and thoughtit was genuine.

Duffin, who has been principal of Colony High School since 2002 and wasawarded Alaska Principal of the Year in 2008, said the Internet creates certainproblems when punishing kids for their misbehavior.

“In the world of the Internet, kids are just exploring a newterritory, and the laws haven’t caught up with it,” Duffinsaid.