WATERVILLE — Area girls were asked to become “cyberallies” Friday at a workshop geared toward combating “cyberhate” or using technology as a means of harassment.

The talk was part of a Girls Rock! weekend hosted by Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Waterville nonprofit dedicated to promoting the health and well being of girls and women.

The weekend was designed to promote social activism and leadership among girls in grades four through eight. Along with the workshops, five girls will be presented with awards Friday evening for making Maine a better place to live and grow.

At the cyberhate workshop, Kathleen Paradis, community educator for Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center, spoke to a group of 20 girls. She said social networking is a large part of girls’ lives and technology is creating new ways to harass others.

Paradis asked the girls to imagine what they would do if they were invisible for 24 hours. The girls, giggling, came up with suggestions such as “scare people,” “ride a zebra” or “spy on people.”

Paradis then noted that all the girls would do things they would not do if people were watching. When people are anonymous, they feel they can get away with more, she said.

She said people who cyberharass often have the same mentality when they send hateful messages.

“When we send mean messages, we don’t see (the recipient’s) face. … We don’t fully get the damage we could be doing,” she said.

Paradis showed a video that showed how cyberhate, while easy to commit, can escalate and leave people feeling depressed or even suicidal. Paradis mentioned 13-year-old Kitty McGuire, a middle school student who committed suicide last week and whose family members say she was bullied in the months leading up to her death.

If any of the girls had cyberharassed someone before, Paradis said, now is a good time to change and become a “cyberally” who works to combat the hate.

The girls were asked to share ideas about how to become cyberallies, and they offered ideas such as using technology to say encouraging things and alerting somebody if they see online bullying.

She said a big component of the conference is learning leadership skills, like courage. While its easy to stand by and watch cyberhate happen, she said the girls can reverse the trend of cyberhate by taking action courageously and becoming a cyberally.

“If you don’t like the way people are treating each other, then you can change that,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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