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Teens' attempted Web jokes serious: Fake profiles of assistant principals alleged sex abuse, used racist words

3-30-2007 North Carolina:

Two Mooresville High School students have been charged with cyberstalking after they admitted creating fake profiles of their assistant principals on MySpace, police said

The students portrayed one of the administrators as a pedophile, police said. They also used racist words.

Tyler Yannone and Lauren Strazzabosco, both 16, were arrested last week on two counts each of misdemeanor cyberstalking.

Principal Mark Rendell said the school lacked the authority to discipline the students because they did not create the profiles on campus.

Ron Yannone, Tyler Yannone's father, told the Observer he is disappointed in his son and has grounded him. But, he said, he is unhappy with how police and the school handled the situation.

"We can't outlaw insulting people," he said. "If we did, we'd have no politicians left. Just look at what is said about our president every day."

The Internet and social sites like MySpace have vaulted youthful pranks onto a worldwide stage that can carry serious consequences. Fake profiles of athletes, celebrities and school administrators are common online. Students in several states have been criminally charged after posting fake sites.

In California, a newspaper last year found fake profiles of nine principals from one county. And in Texas, a principal sued last year after students posted a fake profile incorrectly identifying her as a lesbian.

Strazzabosco's father declined comment. Yannone said his son is an honor student and a member of the band, and has never been suspended or had in-school suspension. He said Strazzabosco, his son's girlfriend, is also a good student.

The fake profiles, which have been deleted from MySpace, were clearly written in jest, he said.

"It was a joke. They went too far, as kids do," he said. "I am disappointed with what my son and his girlfriend did. But I'm disturbed and distressed that anybody involved in this would think they broke the law."

Forty-five states have laws against cyberstalking, which is defined as generally annoying or threatening behavior that takes place online, according to a Web site that tracks online abuse. North Carolina's law, passed in 2000, makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor, which generally carries the possibility of fines and community service, but no jail time.

Mooresville police Sgt. Joe Cooke said they began an investigation in February after an uninvolved student told one of the assistant principals about his fake MySpace profile. The site has a link to report fake profiles and will take them down.

Detectives used a court order to trace the Web page back to Yannone and Strazzabosco, who Cooke said later admitted creating the profiles.

The Observer was unable to reach the administrators on Thursday.

When Yannone and Strazzabosco were questioned by an officer at school, Ron Yannone said, they admitted what they'd done and apologized.

Ron Yannone thinks he should have been contacted then and allowed input before police charged his son.

"If we are going to start arresting children over this kind of stuff," he said, "we've gone terribly wrong as a country."

Boen Nutting, a spokeswoman for the Mooresville Graded School District, said she is saddened by the incident, but not because she believes anyone would believe what was printed on MySpace.

"It's so important that we teach our children to respect adults and respect authority," she said. "That's what worries me most about this."

North Carolina's Law On Cyberstalking

Creating a fake online profile may not sound like stalking, but the law includes any electronic communication making a false statement concerning death, injury, illness, disfigurement, indecent conduct or criminal conduct with the intent to abuse, annoy, threaten, terrify, harass, or embarrass. ..more.. by MELISSA MANWARE

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