FYS 100 Social Media: Going Viral
October 24, 2013
“Why are you still alive?”. “You’re Ugly”. “Can u die please?”. “Drink bleach and die”. These are just some of the words that were said to twelve-year old Rebecca Sedwick that drove her to jump to her death from a tower September 9th, 2013 in Lakeland Florida. According to multiple reports, two girls who attended the same middle school as Rebecca targeted her because she had dated the fourteen-year-old’s boyfriend. Witnesses claim the victim was terrorized by as many as fifteen girls who ganged up on her and tormented her for months through online message boards and text messages. On Monday, Katelyn Roman, age twelve, and Guadalupe Shaw, age fourteen, were charged as juveniles with felony aggravated stalking and online harassment. However, it was not until days after Rebecca’s death her two assailants were arrested following Shaw’s latest Facebook post that read verbatim, “Yes ik I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF<3”.
Unfortunately, Rebecca’s story is one of many cases of cyberbullying that has led to devastation or death. According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly thirty percent of students are either bullies or subjects of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day for fear of being bullied.
According to Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief at Mashable.com, “Bullying is as old as humankind” (Ulanoff). Whether it takes place as a physical attack in the schoolyard or on an online platform, bullying has been, is, and will probably always be around. Whether they are operating in public or behind a computer screen, bullies will always exist. As a child, Ulanoff was every bully’s dream: thin, small, weak, smart, and vulnerable. Growing up, his father advised him to simply stand up to the leader, as if it were that easy. In fact, before 1989, it was hard to find any published books with the word “bullying” in the title, for society’s attitude towards the subject was to simply ignore the crimes. However, by the end of the 20th century, society’s perspective on the issue experienced a change of heart. The message was clear: Bullying is not just another fact of life that resolves itself over time without long-term effects and consequences. Bullying can and should be stopped.
After this remarkable cultural shift, parents, teachers and schools became more aware of the problem, developing compassion for victims and strategizing ways in which they could eradicate the problem. For a moment, it seemed as if we were finally witnessing the end of bullying. Nevertheless, a new drawback surfaced that would impact the growing efforts on bullying: the birth of the Internet. Ever since the development of Web 2.0, the Internet has become a bully’s utopia, and everyone is susceptible.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Keek, Instagram and Snapchat, provide cyberbullies with an advantage of anonymity. Traditional schoolyard bullies acquired power and authority through name recognition. Every child on the playground knew who the bullies were through facial recognition and made sure not to cross paths with these people. In contrast, today’s bullies are able to attack online and do so by masking their online identity. Cyberbullies use words to verbally tear down their victim in the most public way. Because it is so accessible and painless, other Facebook “friends” start to join in the bullying. Before you know it, up to ten or more bullies have united to form what some may argue as gang behavior. The most disturbing part of this idea of anonymity is not knowing who you are actually talking to online. You may believe you are finally talking to the new girl in your English class when in fact you are flirting with a middle-aged man who lives with his mother. This is especially troubling for parents with teens who spend a great amount of their time online. Teens are the most targeted age group by online abusers because it is a time where young people are discovering themselves. Many teens see social media as a comfort zone and a place to vent to whoever is willing to listen. Sadly, little do teens know, they may be entering dangerous territory.
Every parent’s worst nightmare became a reality for the Meier’s family when thirteen-year-old Megan Meier took her life as a result of a cruel cyber hoax. On October 16th, 2006, Mr. and Mrs. Meier made a gruesome discovery in their Missouri home. Immediately, Mrs. Meier knew the cause of Megan’s demise. Megan fell into a deep state of depression after being dumped by her online boyfriend, a fictitious sixteen-year-old boy who went by the name Josh Evans. The romantic compliments and expressions of affection towards Megan son turned into hurtful and vicious slurs. Mrs. Meier, who kept a close watch on her daughter’s online activity, attempted to do a background check of Josh but was denied results. On December 3rd Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s former friend and neighbor, revealed her true identity and involvement with Megan on a blog entry titled “Megan Had It Coming”. The post recounts the entire incident in chilling detail. Drew’s attorney argued that nothing on the Internet is factual and denied any involvement between Drew and Megan. Also, statements from Drew and two teens who participated in the bogus account could not meet criminal standards for the state’s statuses on harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child. Dardenne Prairie, Meier’s hometown, has since passed a law making online harassment a misdemeanor. Her death also prompted Governor Matt Blunt to create an Internet harassment task force with the purpose of making the Internet a safer place for users. Although senseless and tragic, Megan’s death teaches Internet users an important lesson: you cannot be so trusting with other online users, for they may not be who they say they are.
In other words, the birth of Web 2.0 has enabled bullies to victimize their targets through online platforms with ease and anonymity. Unlike traditional schoolyard bullies, cyberbullies cower behind a computer screen where they are able to conceal their true identity and do not have to fear any consequences. Living in the Information Age comes with many advantages and capabilities we could not have ever dreamt of decades ago. However, social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter have opened new doors for criminals and bullies. The “don’t talk to strangers” lesson our parents taught us from a young age still applies to the digital world as well as in the real world. Although devastating, Rebecca and Megan’s story reveal the painful truth about cyberbullying. Internet content is not something we can shelter children from. Instead we should work towards informing children and teens about the dangers online and teach them how to avoid situations in which they can be subject to cyberbullying. I believe that legislation should reform cyberbullying laws so that they employ the same penalties as slander in the real world. In my opinion, all cyberbullying incidents are preventable. Making users of the Internet more mindful while online is a major step society needs to take in order to defeat the issue. I can only hope that this spread of hate is eliminated before my own children are old enough to access the Internet.
To see my original blog post click here.
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