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Nude Photo Scandal at RHS Highlights Dangers of Social Media

Originally posted by James Kleimann on Ridgewood Patch

Daniel Fishbein held a news conference Thursday to address the transmission of nude photos of high school girls through social media.

The Ridgewood community should use the scandal involving the distribution of nude photos of high school girls through social media as a teaching opportunity, Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Multiple sources have told Patch that numerous RHS girls (mostly freshmen) sent nude photographs using the social media application SnapChat to male students, one of whom posted the images on Instagram for all the Internet to see. There was also a video of a dance depicting two high school girls simulating sex acts, sources said.

Most of the male students involved in the scandal are upperclassmen, according to individuals familiar with the situation.

The incidents occurred off school grounds and after school hours.

Students say the Snapchat nude photos first surfaced earlier in the school year, but high school administrators first were made aware last week following a verbal spat between two girls at the Campus Center. The altercation–over illicit videos and pictures–prompted what is now an ongoing police investigation, sources said.

“If this came to our attention a week-and-a-half ago, that’s when we would be having this news conference,” Fishbein said to a dozen news reporters at the Education Center Thursday afternoon. “As soon as it came to our attention…we deal with these things for the health and safety of the students and to educate our community.”

Fishbein sent a letter regarding the incident to students and parents on Wednesday afternoon, stressing that parents need to be partners to prevent the production and distribution of illicit images.

“We can use this situation as a learning experience, an educational experience,” the superintendent said Thursday, adding the event has become a distraction at the high school. “We certainly teach our students about the danger of social media.”

Ridgewood police have been investigating the scandal with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and have established an amnesty period for students to delete the images/video without fear of prosecution. The amnesty expires Monday morning at 7 a.m.

If found with images after Monday morning, students could be charged with “delinquency complaints” and adults with possession of child pornography, authorities said.

Ridgewood Police Chief John Ward said he did not know the exact number of girls who participated, but confirmed there were several of them. The police chief said he was not at liberty to comment specifically on whether an Instagram gallery containing the images went live, but said the amnesty clause only applies to those who are possessing or forwarding the images.

The students involved in the scandal will be spoken to individually, Fishbein said, adding that counselors are available to distressed students.

In response to a reporter’s question about a “non-chalant attitude” from some students, Fishbein called it a fairly normal adolescent reaction.

“Remember, they’re growing up in a different time than we were. This is a battle in a long war. You can say that with technology, you can say that with drug and alcohol education. Again, we try to partner with parents because in this case the incident happened outside of school after school hours…”

Fishbein didn’t know how widespread the practice is, but acknowledged many students use SnapChat and Instagram.

“To say this is rampant, I wouldn’t know if that’s accurate or not accurate. But these things do occur in this village and in other municipalities…We don’t know everything that occurs at every house in this community and that’s where it occurred.”

“Usually things are kept secretive for some period of time and then they do come out and we do address it,”  Fishbein said.

Although there’s a clear danger with misusing technology, many students use it responsibly, he remarked. Super Science Saturday offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of Ridgewood’s students, he said.

“There is some evil but the vast majority of it [technology] leads to creativity. I hope someday someone from this community cures cancer or something like that.”