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Gossip profiles, AKA ‘tearooms,’ popping up for dozens of Utah middle and high schools on social media

Posted at 9:05 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 23:52:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Foul language, egregious rumors, sexual content and cyberbullying are being portrayed on dozens of social media pages known as "tearooms," featuring Utah middle and high school students.

It was the last thing local parent Evelina thought she would see when she was scrolling through Instagram.

“I came across a suggestion of friends and different pages to follow,” Evelina said. “I saw South Davis Junior High — it’s the junior high I went to as a child… so I clicked on it.”

She thought she would spend some time reminiscing over photos of her old stomping grounds. What she saw instead disturbed her.

“It threw me off when I came across [the posts]. I was in shock,” she said.

As she scrolled through the page, she found videos of students (who allegedly attend South Davis Junior High) kissing, rumors of sexual activity and even claims that one of the middle school students is pregnant.

“There was some bullying, the majority of it was sexual content,” Evelina continued. “For a junior high, the kids that were in the pictures and in the videos were around, I want to say, 12 or 13 years old.”

“I don’t think you would expect a 12-year-old acting out in such an inappropriate way,” she continued.

Stunned by her discovery, she had hoped this page was the only one. She decided to do a quick search of other schools in the area — typing in the school's name followed by the word "tea," and that’s when the rabbit hole got deeper.

“What I saw on there was very disturbing, and not what I was expecting at all,” Evelina continued.

Evelina had found a lengthy list of so-called "tearooms," better known as gossip pages.

“I saw Roy High, I saw Woods Cross High, I saw Logan High, I saw Millcreek Junior High. There’s so many of them,” said Evelina.

Some of the profiles are set to private, some not, but all of the pages claimed to be in search of "tea" — or in other words, photos, videos, "news," gossip, or confessions.

Some of the profiles were even encouraging students to “expose their peers” through a link to a variety of third-party sites where users can write anonymous submissions.

“There was a lot of inappropriate and illegal content,” Evelina said referring to a number of sexual and drug-based claims that were made by alleged student submissions.

“As soon as I saw the content, because the kids ages were so young, I reported [them] to Instagram,” Evelina said. “Some of those pages were removed, but the majority of them are still up.”

Evelina noticed many of the profiles appeared to be new, further driving her concerns.

“This is something that could spread like wildfire,” she said. “[We need to] stop them from becoming something horrible.”

FOX 13 was able to find pages for middle and high schools from Logan to St. George and Tooele to Park City.

Many school districts have not yet commented on the pages. However, those that responded said they weren’t aware of the pages, and gave assurance that they "do not tolerate this."

The responding districts gave similar answers as to what can be done to get rid of these pages.

The first: Once the school district is aware of the profile or post, they can ask the social media platform to remove it for “misappropriation” of copyrighted school logos, which the districts have been successful in doing so in the past.

If the logo is altered slightly, it can still be reported for trademark and copyright infringement.

If a page is operating under a given school’s name but does not feature its logos or likeness, it can still be removed if it features inappropriate content and breaches the social media platform's community guidelines.

Still, both options require that the given school district is made aware of the profile — leaving concerned parents like Evelina hoping others will help clean up the "spilled tea."

“We want to raise our kids to be decent human beings, and we just need to protect them from such horrible content,” she said. “I think they’re young and we need to protect their innocence as much as we can, especially in today’s world.”

Parents and students are encouraged to report profiles to their schools or districts so a request can be made to have the page removed.

If the post involves cyberbullying, it can also be reported anonymously on the SafeUT phone app.