Principal fights uMentioned, other smartphone apps

ATLANTA -- A high school principal is rallying parents to fight some of the apps that many children have on their smart phones.

They are apps that enable kids to post anonymous, insulting, public comments about other kids -- comments that amount to bullying

The principal is going to the heart of the problem: the hearts of the users.

The popularity of the apps that teens use to post those anonymous and vulgar insults and gossip involving classmates often changes with the weather. Today's "in" app is replaced the next day with another app.

And a couple of days ago, the app that shocked the principal of Atlanta's St. Pius X Catholic High School is the one called "uMentioned."

He wasn't aware of it until some students complained to him about it.

The public posts he then saw from other students, he said Tuesday, were "inappropriate" and "vulgar."

So on Monday, the principal, Steve Spellman, fired off a warning to parents about the "explicit vulgarity" of the anonymous bullying that the app was enabling.

But here's where he took his solution a step further.

After urging parents to delete the app from their children's smart phones, he then wrote in his email:

"Please have a meaningful conversation with your child about using technology in a positive, ethical manner."

Because, as Spellman said Tuesday, today's app of choice might be "uMentioned" or "Yik Yak," but tomorrow it will be something else; and teens, he said, need to realize that the technology is just a tool of their own good or bad actions.

"And I think our job as [parents and] educators is to teach them how to be moral and ethical in the use of the modern technology that they're going to use the rest of their life."

The founders of "Yik Yak" say they are doing what they can to sanitize their app, using algorithms, for example, to censor certain banned words that some users post.

"And we have this list of common names -- bullying words, racial slurs -- that will trigger something, and the message will get deleted right away," said co-founder Brooks Buffington.

Buffington also says that, at the request of local schools, he is able to use GPS data to disable Yik Yak in 85 percent of the nation's high schools and middle schools.

Some St. Pius students are already posting anonymous complaints, on the uMentioned app, about the crack-down begun by Principal Spellman.

"R.I.P. uMentioned," wrote one student.

"Thank you to the one-percent of students who decided to be mean," posted another student, "so the other 99 percent who used this for fun are probably going to get told by our parents not to use it."

Next, Spellman is going to have a face-to-face with the 1,100-plus high school students, talking with them -- not so much about apps that allow for anonymous postings, but about themselves.

"Whatever they call it, there are going to be these sites available" regardless of adults' objections, "and I think that we need to share and educate these young people in preserving the dignity of the human person."


Here is Spellman's email to parents:

May 5, 2014

Dear Parents:

I have always tried to make you aware of events transpiring on campus, and I write today to share a situation that is having very negative repercussions on many campuses, especially St. Pius X. In fact, I have never seen a collective faculty so upset in all my years of teaching.

There is a new messaging phone app, named uMentioned, for smart phones and other mobile devices. As with many apps, this one originated on a college campus and has been filtered down to the high school level. Unfortunately, we are seeing that these apps are not being used as a way for students to connect with one another, but rather as a large platform for cyber bullying.

This app allows you to take a picture, and add verbiage to the picture. It is being used in a very negative manner, with explicit vulgarity placed on the pictures of students and teachers. Of course, it is an anonymous app, thus creating a veil of anonymity resulting in language that is as vulgar as you can imagine allowing students to verbally abuse each other as well faculty and staff.

To be candid, this is very discouraging that it should exist in any school, but foremost in a Catholic school, a school built on Gospel values. Please know that St. Pius X is taking, and is going to take, very aggressive action against this app. Anyone identified in any of these lewd or vulgar pictures will be severely disciplined.

We have blocked it from being accessed at school on our [in-house wi-fi] system, but we are not able to do anything through your cellular networks, thus I need your help. Please review your child's phone and encourage them to remove this filth. It is my hope that you will be as shocked as I was as to what is included on this app. It smacks in the face of common decency and more importantly, our Catholic faith.

I would appreciate your support with addressing this serious issue with this app. Please have a meaningful conversation with your child about using technology in a positive, ethical manner. Together we can ensure that St. Pius X continues to function in a supportive, nurturing environment which strengthens our commitment to the dignity of the human person.


Steve Spellman


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