Killingly High School students foster online kindness

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Jan. 13, 2014
(L to r) Anna Stevens, Jason Windrow and Frantha Phonesavanh believe that 'positivity can change your life.' Photo by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Anna Stevens, Jason Windrow and Frantha Phonesavanh believe that 'positivity can change your life.' Photo by D. Coffey.

When Frantha Phonesavanh, Anna Stevens and Jason Windrow noticed a Facebook page with derogatory comments targeting Killingly High School students, the KHS seniors decided to do something about it. They created “Connecticut Compliments,” a Facebook page featuring only positive comments. The page has garnered 504 likes since its creation little more than a week ago.

The page has as its motto, "Positivity can change your life." That saying, the seal of Connecticut, and instructions on how to post a compliment are the first things that pop up on the page. Scattered throughout a long list of compliments are messages of support, tidbits of wisdom and a gallant courtesy that’s refreshing.

What’s not to like about a page dedicated to all things positive? The postings recognize individual students for a wide range of attributes. If someone is cheerful, friendly, honest, loyal, intelligent, athletic or musically talented, a posting can show up on the site saying as much. And most of the postings are anonymous.

Stevens said the anonymity allows people to say nice things about people without the complications or promise of a reward. And those compliments have been flowing freely since Jan. 3:

“David is the most amazing and supportive friend anyone could ask for. He can make you laugh and brighten your day with the littlest effort. You can talk to him about anything.”

“A happy birthday to Greg today! For those of you who don't know Greg, he is a funny, positive, and down to earth individual, who has a drive in life! Everyone be sure to wish Greg a happy birthday!”

Even the page has gotten compliments: “Dear CT Compliments: your page makes my day. What you have done has made so many people happy and is a great way to show love and support. Thank you so much!!”

The site got its share of nasty postings early on. An influx of bad comments – about 30 nasty messages were sent from the same three addresses in the first few days. “We were ridiculed for being nice,” Phonesavanh said. But the three students are administrators for the site. They have control over what gets posted and what doesn’t. They censor whatever is crude, rude, cruel and demeaning.

Windrow said he’s known cases where hundreds of people have commented on one negative posting on Facebook. “It can spiral out of control,” he said.

“When people talk on the page, I don’t doubt that it’s moving into real life,” Stevens said. “Twenty years ago you could go home and have some peace. Not any more.” Between their computers and cell phones, many students are connected from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night. Cyber-bullying can reach them anytime, anyplace and anywhere.

Phonesavanh believes that the Killingly school system has done a good job of educating students about bullying and how to combat it. He said the town has done a better job than many other towns. “The town put such a focus on bullying since kindergarten,” he said. He also suspects most of the negative comments found on the CT Confessions page were written by people not from Killingly.

According to KHS Principal Frederick Silva, health classes cover the topic of cyber-bullying. A series of programs on bullying and teen suicide are held on an annual basis in February.

For Stevens, it goes beyond bullying. It’s about promoting online kindness. “Social media gets a bad rap,” she said. “It can be bad. But it can be good, too.” The three students have gotten plenty of messages of support. One mother told them that the page made her feel good. Another wrote, “Whoever you are, you must have been sent from heaven.”

All three admit they are always online. It makes it easy for them to share administrative duties with the site. They’ve made a schedule to ensure that one of them is always available to read the comments as soon as they come in.

They take their “editorial” duties seriously. One of the drawbacks of online postings is that it can be hard to infer emotion behind the words. Without facial gestures or inflections as cues, messages can be misunderstood. The three students are intent on keeping on point.

“You don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life, what they are dealing with,” Windrow said. His choice is to follow the advice posted on the page he helps administer:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

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