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Cyber bullies target local boy

Posted: January 3, 2009 8:16 p.m.
Updated: January 4, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Sean Spalla, a student at Valencia High School, surfs the Web Friday afternoon. A few weeks ago Spalla's YouTube.com account was hacked into and someone posted graphic photos on his page.

 
A hacker probably broke federal and state anti-cyberbullying laws by posting pornographic and bloody photographs on Sean Spalla's YouTube.com page.

"They posted up gory pictures," said Spalla, a 17-year-old special education student at Valencia High School.

The pictures show blood splattered across a room, pornographic images and derogatory remarks about Spalla.

Spalla is especially upset because he said YouTube officials did nothing to protect him or find the hackers.

A hacker changed Spalla's password Dec. 12 and Spalla called YouTube.

"The number on the YouTube Web site is for Google," he said. Google is YouTube's parent company.

Spalla followed the Dec. 12 call with an e-mail begging YouTube to terminate his account. He sent a second e-mail Dec. 13, but Spalla received no response.

YouTube's flagging feature allows members of the YouTube community to flag inappropriate videos, Google spokesman Scott Rubin said.

"We review all flagged content quickly, and if we find that a video does violate the guidelines, we remove it, on average, in under an hour," he said.

Spalla's Web page with the hacker's graphic content was still posted as of 4:45 p.m. Friday.

Rubin contacted YouTube security technicians Friday to tell them about the hacking, but they were off for the holiday and won't be back in the office until Monday, he said.

Sean Spalla's mother, Karee Spalla, wasn't satisfied by Rubin's response.

"We called the (Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station) and they said it was a civil matter," she said.

She contacted the FBI on Dec. 31.

An FBI official declined to comment on whether there is a pending investigation, but said the agency is capable of tracking hackers.

"We have an active cyber crime unit and the expertise to investigate these types of crimes," FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

California Assembly Bill 86 took effect Jan. 1. The legislation supported by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth allows school districts to take punitive action against bullies and extends the definition of bullying to online taunting.

"I think that the intent of the bill is to deal with situations like this," said Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.
"Unfortunately, this is why the bill is needed. We as lawmakers have a responsibility to keep up with technology."

YouTube officials are aware of the cyber bullying issue and have an abuse and safety center link on their site, Rubin said. The site offers advice and links to the help center, but no phone number where a YouTube representative can be reached.

"We've found that in most cases, people can help themselves without the need to contact us," Rubin said.

Karee Spalla went through the protocols on the Web site, but was told she needed to open a YouTube account to fix the problem.

"The last thing I want to do now is open up a YouTube account," she said.

Spalla's big smile makes him likeable to most in the school, Karee Spalla said. But Spalla has dealt with bullies before.

"We had some problems with kids razzing Sean, but the principal took care of it last year," Karee Spalla said.

The large imposing boy would fit perfectly on most high school football teams, but football is not where his interests lie. His passion is short videos he shoots and posts on YouTube.

"I loved it. It's the best thing ever," he said. Now he has a love-hate relationship with the popular site.

"I might stay off YouTube for a while," he said.

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