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Twitter polls become outlet for cyberbullies

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

WOOD – GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A warning for parents and teachers. There Is a new form of cyberbullying. It's happening on Twitter with the relatively new poll feature.

Each tweet apparently pits students against each other in offensive categories. In some cases, first and last names are listed. Many polls have well over a hundred votes. The Twitter accounts are anonymous.

Schools in West Michigan have been alerted to the trend after students were targeted. One account reads ‘send polls & don't snitch.'

"People think they're anonymous and so they don't have the filter that they should have," said Blair Babcock, a Computer Forensics Agent. "If you teach your kids to be concerned about the people who are victimized by this and to care about those kids, first of all, it helps those kids, but it also helps your kids not participate in the bullying part of it."

Babcock says encourage your kids to tell someone if they see this kind of activity, get your school involved and report it to the social media site who can suspend the account.

While one school said that it can be tough to find out who's behind the accounts, Babcock said Twitter is typically very responsive if alerted to this kind of content.

Babcock said it's also important to monitor your child's online activity.

"As a parent, you can't just let that phone or let that computer be. That's not your job as a parent. Your job as a parent is to monitor that," Babcock said.

He acknowledged that doing so can be very difficult:

"It can. I've had three (kids) that have gone through, graduated and they're off in the real world. But I've gone through it with the three of them — and I'm sure sometimes they told their friends how mean their dad was," Babcock said.

But Michigan schools are required by law to have anti-bullying policies in place and students could be subject to discipline if they are caught. There are ways for authorities to find out who's behind the accounts.

Those people could be subject to civil liability for defamation if one of the targets wanted to sue.