By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Michael Guardino uses one word to describe his school’s online cyberbully, and that’s “coward.”
The student opened up a Facebook account and posed as Guardino. He then “friended” other students at Carmel High School. Then he sent cruel remarks to a student with special needs, who actually believed his teacher was taunting him.
“The student with special needs thought he was being bullied by me,” says Guardino, a member of the Association of Carmel Teachers. “He was the sweetest kid in the world and had enough on his plate. It nearly ruined his self-esteem. It happened during the summer, and he didn’t have access to me. He kept wondering why I was doing this.”
Once Guardino found out what was happening, he felt so “violated” that he decided to fight back. CTA provided legal services to Guardino through the Group Legal Services program and hired attorney Joe Cisneros of Monterey. Guardino then contacted the FBI, which subpoenaed the records from Facebook to find the perpetrator.
“Facebook does not cooperate with anybody about anything,” says Guardino. “Yet it’s so simple to open up a fictitious Facebook account and commit cybercrime. I was lucky the FBI subpoenaed the records, because they made it clear that my case wasn’t on the map compared to other priorities, such as pursuing violent methamphetamine dealers in Watsonville. Still, this kid was in violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and it needed to be dealt with.”
Once he had the student’s name, he agreed to keep it confidential because the boy was a minor, and filed suit against “John Doe” and his family. It never reached trial; there was a court settlement with the boy’s family in January 2010. The teacher won $10,000. But after paying attorney’s fees and taxes, Guardino was left with only $2,000. He donated the remainder to CTA.
As part of the settlement, the judge told the student he must apologize to those he had targeted. According to Guardino, that never happened.
Guardino is glad that he took a stand, even though he felt somewhat embarrassed that the incident received coverage in the local press.
“I wanted to prove a point,” he says. “People don’t have the right to steal a person’s identity and use it in any forum.”