Written By Ricky Sayer
Bryn Mawr PA — The mystery surrounding the creation of a website that exposes Harriton Students of illegal behavior has dominated the discussion among students in the opening days of the school year. While students speculate, Harriton’s administration has confirmed to RickyReports.TV that they, as well the police are aware, but only the school is actively investigating. Thanks to swift detective work by students, the site has been taken down though the archives still remain online.
On Monday September 5th, the day before school started at Harriton High School of Lower Merion, an individual (or individuals) using the pseudonym of Greg Stephenson created a website that shared media depicting Harriton students engaging in illegal activity. According to the website, the purpose of exposing students engaged in illegal activity is that it would allow them to be punished and stop them from going to college. “I think that the site in itself is terrible, but I think what is worse is that someone is trying to ruin Harriton students chances of getting into college” said Senior Jon Diamond-Reivich.
As of Friday, the site shared 6 images that depict students smoking marijuana and drinking beer. Harriton students have taken measures to track down the creator of the site. These attempts have led to the current realization that the creator of the site may have framed another student for the sites’ creation.
A Harriton administrator told Ricky Reports on Thursday that they first became aware of the website on Wednesday, the second day of school. A letter to parents from Harriton Principal Scott Weinstein explained that “We received an anonymous email notifying school administration about the site. In turn, we immediately contacted the families of students involved.”
A school administrator told Ricky Reports that no students have been disciplined by the school as a result of the published images as they could have been manipulated to make it appear as if the student was engaging in an illegal activity. The letter which was sent to parents on Friday made note that “As this is an external website, it is likely beyond the District’s capacity to assist in removing the content in question.” More of the email is included toward the end of this article.
Students criticized the administration’s response, saying that “They clearly want no affiliation with it and nothing to do with it.” Senior Jack Turner told me the District should take a more active role in remedying the situation. “Even though these events occurred outside of school, it doesn’t mean that administration just gets to step out of the situation. We have countless assemblies on bullying and cyberbullying and they mean nothing when something like this happens and they don’t take action.” Jack went on to say that he believed that the administration’s response and their email implied that the school “Blamed the victims who did nothing to deserve this.”
Senior Will Hoffman made note that “The people involved were not even contacted by administration and were put on blast to the entire district, they did little to help with the removal of the website, other than warnings of “being careful”.”
Anna Fleming was slightly more forgiving “It’s a tricky situation for the school to be in, but for all they preach about “No Place for Hate”, I think they could have put more effort into getting to the bottom of the situation and punishing the culprit.”
In a “welcome” message on the website, the sites creator makes it clear why they created the site (asterisks have been used to censor the name of the website and protect students involved):
“Hello! Welcome to ******** *****! This website is used to leak out any pictures or videos of Harriton High School students doing illegal/bad things! We created this site for a few reasons reasons:
1. To expose students who do illegal things so they can get punished for them.
2. To expose students who do illegal things so colleges can really see what A+ students look like when not in school.
3. To expose students who do illegal things so they can see that nothing can “disappear from the internet”.
4. To show that “snitches” who expose other students online cannot get “stitches” when done correctly.
Disclaimer: This website is operated by anonymous personnel affiliated with Harriton High School of Lower Merion, PA. All media posted on this site has been gather through legal methods, meaning that our content is not “hacked” out of people’s phones.”
The website has made 2 postings. The first shows 2 female students allegedly smoking marijuana. Only 1 image shows the face of a student. No physical marijuana can be seen in that image but the image does display a “puff of smoke” near the mouth of the student in the image. Other images, which do not show faces, do have what appear to be marijuana in them. The creator of the site claims that these images were “ripped from” a student’s Vsco page. Vsco is a photo-sharing website. A second posting on the site shows a group of friends smiling and laughing as they pose for a picture at a party. One of the students in the image is seen holding an Eagles Beer Can. The post includes a second image, which is a cropped out picture of the Beer Can. Along with the image the site creator included the caption:
“This photo is ripped from Vsco, uploaded by user ***************. This photo shows (from left to right), **** *********, *** *******, ***** *******, ***** *********, and ***** ***** at a house party. ***** ********** has a can of Bud Light in his right hand. We can also assume the two females on the left are under the influence of alcohol, because of the way they are laughing, however, this cannot be confirmed. ********* however is clearly drunk: just look at his eyes.”
It is important to note that some of the students included in the pictures are athletes who are committed to playing at Division 1 schools. The website allowed for readers to anonymously send in pictures of Harriton students engaged in illegal activity so they can be posted on the site. It is unclear if images posted on the site came from a reader or the site.
In a defiant response to criticisms and outrage the creator of the site ‘Greg Stephenson’ wrote that “This site will not get taken down…. Also, I wanted to mention that this site is backed up on http://archive.is/ and http://web.archive.org/ in case anything were to happen to this site.”
A message to ‘Greg Stephenson’ has not resulted in a reply.
Students Act As Detective
News of the website first spread among Harriton Seniors on Facebook Wednesday evening. By mid day Thursday it became impossible to walk around Harriton and not hear someone talking about the website. As Senior Kristen Cooney put it “Everywhere you went, there were people discussing “******** *****” with friends, even teachers.”
As soon as students learned of the sites existence they set out to find the creator of the site. In a matter of hours students were able to figure out that ‘Greg Stephenson’, if he was a real person, was not a student of the Lower Merion School District. Many used their knowledge of technology to determine facts that would help them pinpoint the sites creator. This directly led to a key piece of information being discovered.
For a short time on Thursday it appeared as if the culprit had been caught by his fellow students. In the cafeteria at lunch, a group of students were able to find the email address of the owner of the website. They attempted to break into the account by using a feature on Google that helps you recover a password if you have the phone number that is associated with email account. The group of students did not know the phone number, but google gave them the last two digits of the number as a hint. Junior Max Hopko explained to me how he and his friends were able get those 2 digits.
“I was able to locate the email address used within the website through a broken Subscribe Feed button found on the website. In the code was the email address (email@example.com). With this information I found the last 2 digits of the creator’s phone number.”
A friend of Max realized that those 2 numbers were the same 2 numbers as a friend of theirs who was sitting at the table. They had asked their friend to tell them his entire phone number. He complied and the group entered the number into the password recovery system. To their surprise this worked and a message was sent to the student giving him a confirmation number to re-set the password for the Google account that the website is controlled through. The group of students then proclaimed that they had found the creator of the site causing a stir in the lunchroom as students learned what was going on. A crowd had formed around the student when I confronted him to ask for an explanation. He told me that the phone number associated with the site was his but denied that he created the site. Things became heated when some in the room began yelling at the student who claimed he had been framed. The student was escorted out of the lunchroom for his own safety. The student claims that the actual creator of the website must have used his cell phone number when registering the Google account. He claims that when you enter a phone number, you don’t actually get a text saying that your phone number is now associated with that account. The student told me that following this he met with a school vice principal, and during this meeting the student told the vice principal, who had the IP address of the website, that the IP address associated with the site was not the same as the students phone or computer and that he was framed. The student told me that the vice principal agreed that it would not make sense for the creator of the site to use their actual phone number. Ricky Reports has not independently been able to confirm this. According to the student who says he was framed, school administration advised him not to use the power given to him by the recovery password phone number to set a new password, allowing him to delete the site. On Friday evening, after mounting pressure from students in the Harriton community, the student had reversed course and deleted the site. He wrote online that he video recorded the entire process.
School administration told me they cannot discuss ongoing investigations regarding students.
Harriton Students united this week to condemn the actions of the websites creator and express how they felt. Some students expressed anger toward the websites creator, telling me “I think that it is absolutely worthless and ridiculous and that whoever created this is a low life loser who has nothing better to do” said a Harriton junior, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by the websites creator. Pearce Flanagan, a Harriton Senior told me that “The fact that someone would go out of their way to do all of this is scary. It’s scarier to think what else they feel the need to do.” Junior Kristin Cooney told me “Even though the site is now down, it’s definitely concerning that it existed in the first place, and that someone had so much bitterness toward the people to create it.” Other students, such as Benji Martin, had a different view of the situation. He told me, “While I do think it is concerning, I don’t think it is such a big deal as the student body is making it. Maybe I’m the only who is thinking this but it’s not like the pictures were taken through spy cameras, and the people did not know about it. The people in the pictures knowingly took them, and then chose to post them on social media. Of course the site was made for only exploitation, but is it that big of a deal that the pictures were basically just “retweeted”?”
Students all week speculated who and why someone would create this site. At first, many students came to the conclusion that the creator of the site was a junior girl, jealous of her friends for one reason or another (as the majority of those in the pictures shared on the site are juniors). “My suspicion is that they were trying to ruin Juniors college lives by posting pictures of them doing bad things so that they don’t get into a good college. Definitely seems like something that would happen in a competitive district.” said Noah Salmanson. Others, like Ava Sophia Brown and Kristen Cooney told me they believe that whoever created the website was driven to do so because of something that had happened to them. “The only reason why someone would make a site like this due to his or her own insecurity. The entire thing reeks of fragility” said Ava. Kristen told me that she thought there were 2 possibilities why someone would create the site. “Either whoever made the site was bullied and this was their revenge, or they were the bully.”
All of the Harriton students I talked to believe that this one incident was not representative of the Harriton community. Senior Miranda Ivy Wager told me that she didn’t think that this was representative of the whole school but rather “a representation of what’s wrong with the social structure in our building. The amount of cliques and closed groups in our environment makes it uncomfortable for pretty much everyone. In my experience, you couldn’t even speak to someone outside of your own “group” without getting a strange feeling. We all know each other as seniors this year, yet I’m sure half of us have never talked to each other or given the other the time of day. The whole reason this happened was because someone felt hurt or left out enough to attack others outright.” Senior Ava Rostami had a similar line of thinking. “Something to this extreme is so immature and out of place at this school. If it was representative the entire school, there would not have been in such an outrage at the website’s creation and there may have even been more people to post leaks. If this had happened in Middle School I think that some people might have participated in ‘leaking’ photos, but luckily the entire school saw what was wrong with the website and tried to figure out who would want to do something so immature. People outside of this school need to realize that this was just one person.”
Other students like Zach Alfred Levow, shared similar sentiments “The leaker is a social outcast looking to vent their frustrations out on what they perceive to be the cause of their troubles: the popular kids. No matter if you agree with the leaker’s actions or not, we must look at the bigger issue they illuminated: our entire social dynamic. Something is fundamentally wrong with the hierarchy at Harriton. I don’t exactly know the specific issues and how to fix them, but something has to be broken on a basic level for someone to feel that much anger against those kids to ruin their lives. What is the real pecking order at Harriton? What are our groups and cliques? How do these cliques interact and not interact? How much room is there for being in multiple groups? These are only some of the questions we have to ask ourselves. And we might have to do this ourselves. The administration is silently jumping for joy. All their warnings about online safety have just been validated. They will make no attempt to find the leaker. If they have, they probably sent them off with a pat on the back. Maybe the administration is waiting until the year is in full swing to address the issue to us, but in a week or so, I believe that the administration shouldn’t simply drag us out for another assembly on online safety, but instead divide us up into focus groups to try and solve these social problems. I understand how uncomfortable this will be, and probably unpleasant, but now we have a culture of paranoia and fear at Harriton. How much longer before this reaches a boiling point? We have to come together to solve this issue. A final thought: if there was ever a time to reach out to others (and I realize I definitely have not done that), to invite the kid sitting alone to join you, to strike up a conversation with a random freshman on the bus, it is NOW. Finally, and I hate to end it on a pessimistic note, but if the administration lets our clearly toxic social structure continue without even trying to fix it, they, with all their talk of No Place for Hate and Olweus, are hypocrites.”
The Ripple Effect
Many students I spoke with told me that they had deleted many photos from their social media accounts. One student told me “I took down a lot of posts on my finsta” Meaning that they had taken down images posted to their fake Instagram account (Finsta.) Fake Instagram accounts are used by students to post pictures to an social media account that does not have the students name connected to it, allowing them to post pictures that may not be the most appropriate, that only their close friends can see. In the email to families, Harriton’s new principal, Scott Weinstein wrote that:
“This incident serves as a cautionary tale for our students with regard to their digital citizenship – and the decisions they choose to make with regard to drugs and alcohol. The reality is that every image they post online and every action they take in public (or even at a “private” gathering with friends) can be easily documented and shared with the world. The best way to avoid situations like these is simply to make good decisions and be incredibly cautious when crafting a digital footprint.
Clearly, this is a topic of interest to our students that has the potential to spark various emotions, opinions and debate. It is likely that it will come up in discussion in our classrooms and hallways. We have encouraged staff to support constructive dialogue and reaffirm the importance of good decision-making. We encourage your support and cooperation in doing the same at home. If your children need additional support in navigating these issues, please feel free to reach out to our counselors.”
The site may be down but the students I talked to are in no way relieved. Anna Flemming told me that she felt that effects stemming from the mystery would continue to be present in Harriton hallways. “Though the site itself is gone, it’s effects still linger. Accusations are flying every which way. People were scared while it was up, and now they’re angry and it’s hard to avoid scapegoating people when they know they might never track the real culprit. In this way, The site isn’t really gone.” Emma Johnson pointed out that a new site could pop up and that the posts could continue, “Is the site truly down? I mean someone could easily remake the site and post more pictures of anyone doing anything. I don’t think it can truly go away. At least not yet.”
The mystery surrounding the website looms and is likely to be the highlight of chatter among students at Harriton for some time to come.
Check back with RickyReports.TV for updates on the situation.
RickyReports.TV is run by Ricky Sayer, a Harriton High School Senior who has been reporting news for 6 years. RickyReports.TV is in no way directly affiliated with Harriton High School or Lower Merion School District. You can email Ricky at his school email account firstname.lastname@example.org
RickyReports.TV has decided to withhold naming the website or any students directly involved.