FROM TEASE TO DEATH SEN­TENCE

Hu­mil­i­a­tion on a ‘whole new level’ as so­cial me­dia opens new venues to cy­ber­bul­ly­ing

Santa Fe New Mexican - - GENERATION MEXT - By Han­nah Laga Abram Han­nah Laga Abram is a ju­nior at the Santa Fe Wal­dorf School. Con­tact her at ce­cil­iasy­camore@gmail.com.

Mal­lory Gross­man was a 12-year-old al­lory Gross­man was a

cheer­leader from New Jersey.

David Mo­lak was a high school sopho­more from San An­to­nio, Texas.

Alatauai Sasa was a 15-year-old girl from Welling­ton, New Zealand.

All three of them took their own lives.

In the af­ter­math, the cause of these tragedies was easy to iden­tify: They were al­legedly the vic­tims of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to cy­ber­bul­ly­ing statis­tics from the i-Safe Foun­da­tion on Bul­ly­ingstatis­tics.org, about half of all teens have been cy­ber­bul­lied, about the same num­ber have en­gaged in cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, and less than half of the vic­tims never told their par­ents.

“Not a lot of peo­ple think much of it,” said Sev­as­tian Mal­colm, an eighth­grader at Mi­la­gro Mid­dle School, about cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, “But there are ac­tu­ally re­ally se­ri­ous things go­ing on.”

Chloe Lowrie, a sev­enth-grader at Or­tiz Mid­dle School, agrees. “I think if we don’t ad­dress this topic, it will get worse and lead to more pain and sui­cide.” She said she knows three peo­ple who “have thought about sui­cide and more who have ac­tu­ally done it.”

She hopes a day will come when no adult or teen or child has to worry about some­one they love tak­ing their own life be­cause of bul­ly­ing of any kind.

But how do we change some­thing that is so ubiq­ui­tous in teen cul­ture to­day?

A 2015 study by Com­mon Sense Me­dia stated that the av­er­age Amer­i­can teen spends nine hours a day con­sum­ing dig­i­tal me­dia. For many, the ma­jor­ity of this time is spent on so­cial me­dia plat­forms that re­volve around the post­ing of pho­tos and com­ments and “likes” on those posts. For teens ac­tively seek­ing con­nec­tion, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and val­i­da­tion in times of in­tense emo­tional stress, sites like Face­book and In­sta­gram of­fer am­ple op­por­tu­nity for com­pli­ments and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

They also of­fer an open, con­se­quence-free space for post­ing neg­a­tive com­ments and bul­ly­ing.

“So­cial me­dia bul­ly­ing is a lot eas­ier be­cause you can hide be­hind a screen,” said Glo­ria Cham­pion, a coun­selor at Or­tiz Mid­dle School, who said she was “shocked” by what her mid­dle-school kids are often ex­posed to on the in­ter­net.

“Bul­ly­ing used to take place in the play­ground. But now, it’s not just one per­son say­ing some­thing to some­one else. It re­ally goes vi­ral.

“The hu­mil­i­a­tion is at a whole new level.”

And for young adults still try­ing to gain con­fi­dence and form their iden­tity, the con­se­quences can be dev­as­tat­ing.

“I think cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is a lot harder to re­cover from [than phys­i­cal bul­ly­ing] be­cause of all the con­fi­dence you lose,” said Eva Crocker, a fresh­man at Santa Fe Wal­dorf School.

Crocker re­called be­ing called “fat” and “bitch” by oth­ers on the in­ter­net. To her, the en­tire world could see and con­tem­plate those com­ments.

Lowrie re­ceived sim­i­lar com­ments, like “gross,” af­ter post­ing a pic­ture, and even though she knew it was a joke, “It still re­ally hurt.”

“The com­ments made me feel re­ally bad. I was go­ing through a re­ally hard time and it didn’t help my self-es­teem at all. I just kinda shut down, I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

In ret­ro­spect, Crocker wishes that she had been more con­fi­dent in askex­perts ing for help — some­thing say teens have to learn to do when it comes to bul­ly­ing.

The sup­port sys­tem is there, but it some­times strug­gles to de­liver jus­tice, some say. “It’s so dif­fi­cult to hold any kind of in­ves­ti­crimes; gation into cy­ber­bul­ly­ing the anonymity on so­cial me­dia sites is re­ally dan­ger­ous,” said Den­nis Dauber, the sev­enth- and eighth-grade coun­selor at Mi­la­gro Mid­dle School.

“It’s so over­whelm­ing to try to re­pair these things,” Cham­pion said, “We do our very best. But it’s so hard. The kids do a re­ally great job of stand­ing up for each other, though.”

Lowrie agrees. “There’s only so much the teach­ers can do,” she said, “I think it’s the stu­dents who should act first.”

But it can be hard to stand up to peo­ple you care about and ad­mire, even if they are wrong, and even more dif­fi­cult to ig­nore com­ments from some­one out there on the in­ter­net who you may not even know — who could be any­one.

“Anonymity just leads to prob­lems,” said Sam Sisahkti, the founder of the in­de­pen­dent on­line fash­ion site UsTrendy and the non­profit Be­lieve in Your­self Project, which looks for ways to ad­dress cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. “I think that anony­mous cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is a way for cow­ards to re­lease all the anger they have in­side them in a face­way less way.”

“It’s eas­ier to say some­thing be­hind some­one’s back, or over text, than in per­son,” Lowrie said.

And to­day, there are apps that ask you to do just that. The new “honSara­hah esty” app asks peo­ple to give anony­mous feed­back to their friends, jus­ti­fy­ing it as “con­struc­tive critiUn­for­tu­nately, cism.” this opens up even more plat­forms where those who are jeal­ous, an­gry, scared and in­se­cure can play out their emo­tions with­out con­sid­er­ing the con­se­quences.

“I think peo­ple cy­ber­bully be­cause they feel sad and in­se­cure, and they don’t know how to make them­selves feel bet­ter ex­cept for bring­ing other peo­ple down,” Crocker said.

“A lot of what bul­ly­ing is [is] in­se­cu­rity-based ac­cu­sa­tions,” agreed Au­gust Rai­ley, a ju­nior at the Academy for Tech­nol­ogy and the Clas­sics. Rai­ley is a Nat­u­ral Helper, a pro­gram fa­cil­i­tated by the Sky Cen­ter that teaches teens how to be peer helpers in their schools, how to look out for the kids who are be­ing bul­lied, hav­ing a rough time at home and even con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide.

“The job of a Nat­u­ral Helper is to be there to say, ‘You’re not alone, I hear you, and I’m here for you,’ ” Rai­ley said. “We have four dif­fer­ent sup­port groups at our school, and they’ve com­bined to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity that’s al­most void of bul­ly­ing. I’ve never been bul­lied, and I’ve never seen a fight at my school.”

Rai­ley is fa­mil­iar with the con­fu­sion and con­cern caused by so­cial me­dia, how­ever. “Tech­nol­ogy has given us the abil­ity to con­nect with peo­ple all around the world at any time, but si­mul­ta­ne­ously we’re now cater­ing to two lives — our lives in re­al­ity, and our lives on the in­ter­net. It’s re­ally stress­ful and dan­ger­ous.

“When you set up a so­cial me­dia ac­count, you’re putting your best foot for­ward, you’re doc­u­ment­ing ev­ery per­fect pos­i­tive mo­ment in a very spe­cific frame,” he said. “And when some­one comes into that space and ridicules this bea­con of pos­i­tiv­ity that you’ve cre­ated, chal­lenges it and breaks it down, even with a sin­gle sar­cas­tic com­ment, that can hurt so much.”

Sisahkti of­fers the fol­low­ing ad­vice for those who have been cy­ber­bul­lied:

Don’t re­spond. You will want to, but don’t.

Delete the com­ment(s), but make sure you take a screen­shot so you have a record.

Re­frain from cy­cling or con­tin­u­ally look­ing at the post or text, be­cause the more you look at it, the worse it can be­come.

Take a break from so­cial me­dia. Put the phone down. Do some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing that has noth­ing to do with elec­tron­ics.

Stand up for your friends. Often bul­lies are in­se­cure and if you stand up as a com­mu­nity, they will re­al­ize this is not the right way to get val­i­da­tion.

And if cy­ber­bul­ly­ing or bul­ly­ing of any kind con­tin­ues, you must re­port it to an adult, be it your par­ents, teach­ers, coun­selors or bosses.

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