Want a view into the heart of high school darkness? Try Xanga.com.

Meaner Girls 

Want a view into the heart of high school darkness? Try Xanga.com.

Thanks to the Internet, high school just got way more cruel.

Fuck u carrie!!

Ur 100% slut! And u like to play w/ur self! IN CLASS, AT LUNCH, AND BY UR SELF!!!

The schoolyard has always been about rumors and name-calling. But as technology tweaks the way we work, shop and breed, so, too, does it revolutionize the writing on the bathroom wall.

And although Web log software has been helping people create online journals for several years, for some reason the adolescent set has ferociously adopted one diarylike breakthrough in particular: Xanga.com.

Created by New Yorker John Hiler in 1999, the software has in the past year become the blogging system of choice for the underage, who post entries on hyperpersonalized Web pages; Kansas City schoolkids use the sites to post song lyrics, log prosaic daily activities, or write intensely personal stuff.

I finally did it.

It wasn't what I expected, but I did it.

Part of the appeal is its user-friendliness. Xanga's most basic personal pages cost nothing to create, and its template makes easy work of changing fonts and colors, posting photographs, playing songs or movie clips, and splashing text banners across the screen.

Xanga is so easy to learn that a sixth-grader at the Shawnee Mission School District's Broken Arrow Elementary School was told he could face charges from the Johnson County district attorney for a "threatening" post he made on his blog about a teacher in early February. (Sources from the DA's office, however, tell the Pitch they doubt that prosecutors will pursue the matter.)

Other Web scribblings have school administrators and parents scrambling to find ways to deal with the caustic things their children say. Xanga pages have prompted warnings to parents in Shawnee Mission school newsletters. Shawnee Mission PTAs have sponsored seminars to advise parents how to monitor and control their children's online social lives. Many schools have blocked or banned Xanga from their computer labs.

But Xanga continues to grow, and one reason may be because it's so easy to access. Unlike other online Web communities, logging onto someone's Xanga site generally doesn't require a password. All it takes is typing www.xanga.com/, followed by the person's Xanga moniker. You don't have to be someone's "friend" to log a comment on a site, as on some other networking sites; you only have to have a page of your own. Type in www.xanga.com/better_than_love, for example, to check out a couple of local high schoolers who take photos of each other staring, pouty-lipped, into the camera like extras from The OC. Or try www.xanga.com/PsychoDellic to read a boy's ode to the pipe that a friend's dad discarded.

Xanga also is popular with KC teens because of its blog rings, which link sites with common themes -- movies, TV shows, hobbies. Other rings link students from the same school. ***P@SEO KrEw KILL$$!***, for example, connects bloggers who attend Paseo Academy.

For kids, navigating Xanga pages is a lot like walking through the halls at school. You put up your page and open yourself up to commentary. How you portray yourself can win you friends and enemies.

Brian is a junior at Lee's Summit North High School who is harshly critical of what people say about themselves in their personal profiles. His blog ring, Mall Metal Enemies, denounces Jncos (a clothing brand known for baggy jeans), wallet chains, wrist bands, mesh hats, eyebrow rings, XXL T-shirts, Juggalos (fans of the band Insane Clown Posse), Korn, dyed hair, fishnets ("unless intent on catching some form of aquatic creature"), excessive eyeliner, bad haircuts and button-up "fire/dragon/barbed wire/anime shirts."

"Be offended, then kill yourself," a message on the blog ring advises.

On a weekday afternoon in his father's study, Brian hangs out in sweatpants and deftly navigates his Xanga site, nothing_but_enemies. The site features his hardcore band's name in huge letters ("Come Undone") and a picture of himself, eyes shut, microphone in fist, singing at a show. "In a street fight, my xanga will kick your xanga's ass," his site proclaims.

The appeal of Xanga, he says, is that it grants the ability to harass others. "I hate this kid," Brian says, tapping the thumbnail picture of a teen who left a comment on his site. "He's a Hot Topic kid who thinks he's so unique. But he's different just like everyone else is when they're trying to be different. They're all into Dance Dance Revolution and anime, and they're oblivious to the fact that they suck."

Brian's attacks have garnered him several threats. "Tons of kids say they want to fight me," he says, laughing. "I say, OK, here's how it will go. We'll both show up somewhere and hit each other, and maybe you will win or maybe I'll win. But when we get back up, you're still going to suck, so I still win. Either way. Fighting is stupid, though."

Brian says he has a special disdain for some Xanga users who write about cutting themselves or contemplating suicide.

"I make fun of those kids," Brian says. "It's like, who wants to read all of that when you could just go get a therapist. And some people are so lame, their posts are full of 'I got so messed up this weekend, and I had sex with this girl, I don't even remember her name.' It's so lame, I don't understand those people. They're just lame kids."

But what if they're crying out for help?

"They act like their lives are so bad," Brian says. "But I'm like, do it then."

Brian's annoyance at Xanga users who make a show of their depression may stem from a friend's suicide last December. "Our friend showed no signs of depression," he says quietly. "She didn't write or talk about suicide. She was one of the most upbeat kids I've ever met, and one day after school she took her dad's hunting rifle and shot herself. Then these kids go, 'Ooh, I like to cut myself.' If your life is so bad, do something about it."

Mary and Ashley, two best friends and high school freshmen, also use their Xanga pages to lash out at the obsessed-with-death set.

"Why don't suicidal attention whores actually go through with committing suicide? Whywhywhy? They're too busy listening to Good Charlotte, probably," Ashley wrote recently, referring to a favorite musical act of the goth crowd. A friend responded, "Because their sissies and people who cutt don't expect to actually die they just want the rewards of having scars and getting attention from it the rest of their lives."

Other sites obsess about sex, naturally. Blog rings tied to schools tend to build pages where the vices and virtues of well-known students are debated endlessly. These "sluts pages" are ubiquitous. At least three from the Shawnee Mission School District currently exist: Shawneemissionparties, Shawneemissionpartys and Shawneemissiontrash.

"THIS FUCKING SLUT," reads one post from Shawneemissiontrash, "can suck a FFFFFFFFFFFATTTT dick (which she's probably doing at the moment)." The message refers to a photograph that's no longer on the site. Another post about the missing photo reads, "Hehehehehehe ... look at this fat bitch kissing this disgusting creature.... is that a girl or boy? sick, you fucking dike. P.S. Jon dated her back in elementary school. She fucked him."

Not surprisingly, the Shawneemission sites were viewed as problematic by the district's counseling staff.

The Shawnee Mission School District is admirably well-equipped for handling social ills. Each high school in the district has its own social worker, at least two patrolling police officers and one student resource police officer. That's in addition to two associate vice principals and a principal.

Shannon Ozbun is a comforting, motherly presence in the basement counselor's office at Shawnee Mission South in Overland Park. At the mere mention of Xanga, her expression becomes pained.

"I deal with a lot of extremely upset and distressed kids, and there's not anything we can do about it," says Ozbun, who holds a Ph.D. in social welfare. "We're just left with the emotional expense. All we can do is provide support. I hate those sites. I detest them. I don't even know how to get on it. I boycott it, personally. It's a stretch for me to see the perks of Xanga ... I'm all for having kids learn to journal and express themselves, to articulate thoughts and feelings. But it should be private, not in a forum people use to hurt other people, which is essentially what I see folks doing."

Ozbun says she's often been in the exasperating position of having to soothe a sobbing teenager who feels ripped to shreds on Xanga. She's fielded calls from sputtering parents who call the school to demand that hurtful words be taken down from the Internet. But there's little Ozbun can do about the sites themselves.

If there's a real threat, she tells parents to call the police, she says.

"I get them [kids] down here and try to offer some perspective," Ozbun says. "Kids are, in many ways, victimized by this. It is extremely damaging."

Some Xanga posts read like the script of the 2004 movie Mean Girls.

Recently, a girl who goes by the Xanga handle Finn69 wrote a sarcastic imitation of the Shawnee Mission South drill team, the Pacesetters.

"So, um, yeah! Pace tryouts are today! I'm soo nervous! I hope I make it! I don't know what I'd like do if I didn't make it. I would probably die! And then would boycott SMS for not like letting me!" She then she dropped the sarcasm to write, "THE PACESETTERS AT SHAWNEE MISSION SOUTH HS SSUCKK!! It is painful to watch them."

An indignant Pacesetter answered: "You know I love you but seriously girl you gotta watch what you say about us Pacesetters because regardless of what others think we all do work really hard and we definitely have a bunch of trophies from competition this year."

Several other Pacesetters wrote to Finn69 with defensive comments, questioning her dancing abilities and hinting at her reputation as a party girl. Finn69 responded with a lengthy comeback, ending with "I guess the truth hurts my slutty friends."

A Pacesetter flamed back: "You're just jealous because we have something in life and all you have is Jazzercize, which isn't working," she wrote. One of her allies added,"Why don't you drop a few pounds? My legs are together, what about yours?"

Hami, a senior at Shawnee Mission South who knows the girls in this mud fight, says the battle continues. "It's just an everyday thing now," he says. "I see people all the time in classes logged onto it, hitting refresh all the time. Like, what are you guys doing?"

Shawnee Mission South Associate Principal Clint Scroggins maintains that Xanga hasn't presented much of a discipline problem at his school. He dismisses Xanga's influence, knowing that he's a victim of Xanga mischief himself. A site named "Clint Scroggins" features images of Charles Barkley (whom Scroggins resembles only in that he is bald and African-American) and posts mock notes from Scroggins to his students. One reads: "Dearest Students, I would like to kick off this semester with a quick little note of advice: 'Life isn't life without a little living.' In case that isn't enough Scroggish insight for you, always remember: Middle-aged black guys are hot. Especially the bald ones. Who find the deepest inspiration in the poster of Charles Barkley affirming himself. Check you dudes later. --ScroggDogg."

Scroggins hasn't seen the site that carries his name. "Someone who's on [Xanga] told me about it a long time ago," he says. "I'm sure it's not very nice."

Another Xanga page, named for Marjorie Kaplan, the Shawnee Mission School District's superintendent, pokes fun at a food-poisoning incident last year in which some teachers became sick from eating fruit and posts fake memos from Kaplan:

"Sorry about the fruit. -- Marj."

Kaplan's spokeswoman, Leigh Anne Neal, says the superintendent is aware of the site. "It did certainly appear to be obviously a spoof. If you went there, basically anyone would recognize that it was not actually authored by the superintendent. The information-services department of the district contacted Xanga because it was certainly placed there without her permission. Xanga was not responsive to being able to remove it. They said it could only be removed by whoever placed it there. So we didn't give a lot more attention to it."

Hami, the Shawnee Mission South student, says, "No one really knows who those people who post those pages are. It's really smart."

For a Gardner boy, Xanga's lure proved irresistible. Even though that made him the center of an all-out Internet war.

Gardner-Edgerton High School is an ultramodern campus that sits at the intersection of housing developments and cornfields. It's one of Kansas' fastest-growing areas, but it hasn't lost its yee-haw -- it's not exactly an ideal place to come out of the closet as a gay teenager.

Justin Smith is a big guy with an unathletic build and a high, watery voice, the kind of person who probably would have found high school a living hell anyway. But a little more than a year ago, Smith started being more public about his sexual orientation. He started wearing rainbows. He carried a purse. He painted his fingernails. Enjoying the rise he was getting out of his cowboy-boot-wearing classmates, Smith went so far as to wear a shirt that read "I DICK."

Smith gives Xanga much of the credit. In March 2004, he launched a Xanga page, Juzagayboi, joined the blog ring dedicated to his school (**GEHS*PeePs**) and was soon linking to other gay teenagers in small towns who felt isolated and misunderstood. The interaction he found on the Internet, Smith says, went a long way toward making him feel less alone. And it spurred him to be more bold about his identity.

"Some gay people don't like me until I explain why I'm doing it," he says. "Some say I'm being too gay, but I have a choice. I might as well. I lived 16 years where I couldn't be gay at all," he says.

But Smith's Xanga site lately has been a battlefield. Last September, he posted a mundane entry about working on Spirit Week activities with another male student, whom he identified by name. Six weeks later, another student posted a comment that the male student wanted his name taken off Smith's site.

"I got a post from someone I didn't know, and they said, 'This person doesn't want you talking about him ever again, take his fucking name off your Xanga,'" Smith says.

Angry, Smith posted the student's yearbook picture on his Juzagayboi site, accompanied by the boy's name typed over and over. To a casual visitor, the site made Smith look like he was obsessed with the boy -- until the visitor scrolled down to read an explanation for the stunt.

"The school board got a call or complaint from the guy's mother, and there was talk of harassment charges against me, or suspending me, it was so crazy," Smith tells the Pitch. "The principal and the student resource officer had a sit-down with me and told me that they'd hate to see something like this go on my permanent record."

The school's administration would not comment about specific student disciplinary issues, but Assistant Principal Mark Meyer says, "Generally, this is another way that sometimes things that are unrelated to the school bleed into the building, and the school is forced to address them. That particular site [Xanga.com] is one that is not normally appropriate for the school setting." Meyer says students must sign a form agreeing to the school's acceptable-use policy before using its electronic equipment.

Smith agreed to remove the offending post. Shortly afterward, last November, a new site appeared under the **GEHS*PeePs** blog ring named WELOVEBUSHDIEQUEERS that contained derogatory references to Smith.

The site has since been dismantled; Smith and his friends don't know whether the Xanga administrators demanded that the blog's creator take it down or if it was taken down voluntarily. But members of Gardner-Edgerton's Gay/Straight Alliance (which Smith founded) saved the posts in a Microsoft Word file. The author or authors of the site claimed their goals were "Spreading God's word and will, teaching Sunday school and making fags cry and telling them they spread AIDS."

"Oh Justin! Just a lil note, you look much better as a boy," reads one entry, posted on November 9. "You are more attractive as a boy, that's what God made you and put you here for. You should lose the man purse, Bee-otch."

Smith joined in on the flamethrowing, which soon became a free-for-all. "There were easily 100 people involved," Smith says. "I don't even know how far it spread. I would always go check out that site and check out the sites of people who put up responses. It just kept going in circles. There would be 15 to 20 comments on every post he made."

Smith never found out who was responsible for WELOVEBUSHDIEQUEERS, but he and some members of the GSA posted a complaint to Xanga administrators, and after a couple more weeks, the site was gone. Smith says he could tell that the owner of the site was someone who went to school with him because of hints that were dropped regarding Smith's clothes, his parents and other personal information.

"If I wore nail polish one day in a month, he'd know it," Smith says. "It really got me thinking he or she saw me a lot. It never actually was directly threatening, but it did say I should die. It never actually said they were going to do anything, just that they generally thought it should be done."

The underlying violence suggested in the posts didn't go unnoticed by readers of WELOVEBUSHDIEQUEERS, some of whom expressed sympathy for Smith. Eventually, he says, the tone of the posts began to change. Some of the anonymous voices that had seemed most homophobic began to appear almost sympathetic, and Smith wondered if they had begun to rethink their positions after hearing passionate appeals on Smith's behalf from several of his friends. One poster even admitted to a change of heart.

"I would like to apologize for all of the anti-gay comments I have made recently. I realize that I went too far with the issue. Although I do not agree with the gay lifestyle, I am in no position to try to change someone. I will leave that up to the individual. I hope that you all realize it takes a big man to admit his faults, and that's what I'm doing. I hope you all accept my sincere apology. "

Juzagayboi accepted his apology.

And for about five seconds, things chilled out in Gardner-Edgerton's Xangaland.

"It's supposed to be an online diary, but it turned into a place to talk to each other and about each other," Smith says. "I know a lot of people who have shut down their sites and left. They got sick of it, sick of getting threatened, sick of things getting serious when it was meant to be a joke."

Smith has kept Juzagayboi going, writing about his dating trials and tribulations, about how lame it would be to go to prom with a female friend and about being a "fabulous faggot" (which is what he is, he says, according to an online quiz he took). Smith talks about looking forward to attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence. And he harbors no ill will toward Xanga. He still totally loves it.

He still loves it, even though in January a new blogger entered the **GEHS*PeePs** community. The name of the blog: AntiJustin. "Justins a Fag," reads the greeting banner. "All Fags even the 'nice' ones go to HELL."

Smith's newest nameless nemesis created a list of names of Gardner-Edgerton High School boys whose sexual orientation he or she found questionable and listed other "fagish" things, including "Olathe High Schools, Spongebob and Patrick, xanga (sort of), being friends with other guys on the weekends and having sleep overs, soap operas, gay porn, and ass fucking."

But in recent weeks, a suspicious Xanga user researched "AntiJustin" and found that it originated from the same IP address -- the distinctive code that identifies every computer's location on the Internet -- as Justin Smith's own site, Juzagayboi.

Smith himself was behind AntiJustin, the site that mocked him. "Ha ha. Busted. Idiot," posted the Internet sleuth, who included an image of Smith's yearbook photo superimposed with the words "Hi, I am ... AntiJustin."

Smith reacted last week by overhauling his regular site. "So Sorry!" reads the opening banner. Smith says he created the homophobic site after the previous anti-gay site, WELOVEBUSHDIEQUEERS, seemed to change the minds of hateful kids. He reasoned that if he spoke in the voice of an over-the-top bigot in AntiJustin, even homophobic classmates would reject those opinions as extreme. Smith's plan called for AntiJustin to have a dramatic change of heart at the end of the school year and apologize for harassing him.

But the revelation that he was behind his own hate site has angered Smith's friends.

"Ok, Justin, I'm pissed off," writes one who had previously submitted an online offer to kick AntiJustin's ass on Smith's behalf. "It's embarrassing to the GEHS gay/straight alliance to hear that you did this work. You created a bigot for everyone to hate just so that we would have something to stand up against."

Smith concludes his post with a promise to sign off Xanga forever -- a pledge he punctuates with a question mark. Travis, a senior at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, realized that his mom was lurking on his Xanga page (mrt810) when he got in trouble for "bookings." He and his friends are straight edge, spurning drugs and drink; the most delinquent behavior they indulge in is dumpster diving behind bookstores for discarded books. They take the damaged titles and set them down on lawns of friends and enemies, spelling out words like poop.

"At the very height, the halcyon days, there were like three different teams," Travis says. "But lately it seems lazy people have taken it over, so you just get trash thrown in your yard, and it's, like, zero degrees, and you have to go clean it up, and it's not fun anymore."

Thug life it isn't. But his Xanga page suggests that even smart, good kids can get themselves into Internet trouble, relatively speaking.

"What the fuck is grounding me supposed to prove?" Travis ranted recently. It seems Travis hadn't told his mother where he was going to be one recent evening, thinking she already knew. He writes: "So I called from my bathroom on the cellphone to tell her that I was gonna take a shower in case I didn't tell her. She was not amused. And every one of her arguments is full of contradictions and illogical statements. I'm gonna find the tape recorder and get a few down on record. Then put them somewhere. Fucking comedy gold. I was also told that she thinks that my handling of recent events and my anger are signs of mental illness. After all, my family does have a history of it and it shows up during puberty.... Am I insane? A sociopath with a tendency for extreme anger that results in violence? A schizoid with extreme paranoia? Is everyone against me? Are the voices real? 'Cause the old lady seems to think so. What do you all think? And because this is public forum, this is probably gonna be read and I will have more lesson teachings laid down upon me. Sigh. Such is the curse of being a smart ass."

The posting earned him another day of grounding.

Travis and his brother were both punished for acts they described in their Internet journals. In both cases, their mother wouldn't have known about the behavior otherwise. But it isn't like she had broken the locks to their diaries. They were posted for the world to see.

"I got really angry and rebellious for a couple months at the beginning of the year last year because she kept trying to get on and read and stuff, and I kept warning but they just kept not caring, which is fair enough," Travis says. "Other parents read them, too. I had four or five friends who killed theirs off because their parents were reading them and confronting them, so they stopped for a while and then came back on under new names to try and throw them off. And they always end up linking together and finding them anyway."

Some teens post things specifically for their parents to find. "Everyone else that I read kind of takes a note of pride in putting on truthful things and trying to make them crazy," Travis says. "But you can't tell when people are being sarcastic or just trying to piss you off or being facetious, or when they're actually extremely angry at you but you don't realize it because it's only print and you can't really hear tone of voice or see facial expression. I think it's difficult. It's another degree of impersonality."

Among his social circle, bad grammar or spelling leads to merciless teasing, which means there's a premium put on correct use of language, something that ought to make English teachers proud. "It becomes another thing to make fun of," Travis says gleefully. "Especially now that you have spell check."

Recently, a friend told Travis that he'd been interested in a girl until he read on Xanga about something scandalous she reportedly did at a party. It ended his friend's crush, Travis says. But keeping tabs on other people's social lives is one of the main perks of Xanga, he admits.

Another perk is being able to share music and reading tastes with friends. Users of Xanga can post thumbnail pictures of the books they are reading, the albums they are listening to or the movies they are watching, which makes it easy for readers of their sites to learn more about their interests and, therefore, more about them.

Which was one of the purest purposes of Xanga in the first place.

Travis has a thick skin about Xanga, when it's not getting him busted with his mom. He says the rules of Xanga are no different from the rules of ordinary living. "It's just, like, existence," he says. "No matter what you do, there's going to be someone who's going to make fun of you. I think Xanga, in a way, is inviting people to make fun of you the same way as eating lunch at the wrong tables invites people to make fun of you. Or even at the right tables. Someone's going to make fun of you."


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