FROM TEASE TO DEATH SENTENCE
Humiliation on a ‘whole new level’ as social media opens new venues to cyberbullying
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.