Facebook page draws police scrutiny for cyberbullying

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It was vicious high school gossip gone digital.

Sometime in the past few days, Pennsylvania State Police said a Facebook user created an online forum on the social networking site titled "Beaver County Hoez."

On it, the anonymous user posted photos of girls and young women from Beaver County and included sexually explicit captions and fictitious accounts of sexual encounters. Many of the girls were labeled "hoez."

State police announced Wednesday they were launching an investigation and that they were working with Facebook to pull the plug on the site. It was removed sometime Wednesday evening, though it was unclear if police intervention prompted that.

For those who were featured on the site, though, it was too late. Word of site spread like wildfire through school hallways, prompting sneers and harassment from classmates, said Raven Blair, a 2010 graduate of Beaver Falls High School.

Ms. Blair, who now attends Penn State-Beaver, said even her college classmates knew about the site.

She took her name tag off at work to fend off inquiries about it.

"Once it's up, it's up," she said. "The damage is done."

In the time the site was up, it was viewed by more than 3,100 users who clicked a thumbs-up icon on the site so they could post messages and share the site with fellow Facebook users.

The site drew hundreds of comments from other Facebook users, many of them juvenile and cruel.

Others posted comments defending the girls and decrying the stories as untrue.

The photos of the girls came from the victims' own Facebook pages. Many of them were idyllic high school portraits of the girls in school apparel and cheerleading uniforms, mugging with their friends and boyfriends.

The captions, written in high school vernacular, were crude and vulgar. The site's anonymous creator, who used the name Beaver County Hoez, at one point turned the taunts on those who stood up for the victims.

"why are you such a whore defender?" the user posted.

Ms. Blair said she saw the site a couple of days ago and clicked on it because she was curious. At that point, she did not see her own photo on the site. She said she commented on a post to a photo of a garden hoe because she thought it was a clever retort.

That site was eventually taken down, but its creator made another one.

It was again removed and her photo appeared on a later version.

Ms. Blair said she had no idea who created the site and didn't have a clue as to why she was made a target. She knew five of the girls whose photos were posted through friends or because they were high school classmates.

At one point, the photos of 25 young women and girls -- some as young as 14 -- were featured on the site.

Her photo was posted on a later iteration of the site sometime Tuesday. She said she was so upset that she only slept a couple of hours. Early Wednesday, she took her laptop to a handful of local police stations who collected reports. She was interviewed by state police Wednesday.

Another girl whose photo appeared on the site was a freshman at Central Valley High School, who said it made her "an emotional wreck."

"I have never felt so hurt or betrayed in my life," she said in a Facebook message to a reporter. "For someone to make up these hurtful rumors about people and post them on the Internet for other people to see is heartless."

State police were still working Wednesday to identify the Facebook user who created the site. It's unclear what charges may be filed, though troopers characterized the incident as cyber bullying/harassment.

Fred Wolens, a spokesman for Facebook, would not comment directly about the Beaver County Hoez site. But he said in general that the social network takes down sites that are not in compliance with its "Community Standards," which users agree to follow when they sign up for the site.

Users also agree not to intimidate or harass others, he said.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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