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Jenna Brown Instructor: Malcolm Campbell English 1103 11/7/12

Children Behind the Screens: The Cyberbullying Trend in today’s Generation

Our reality is a fast paced, digital society where adolescents are the internet natives and everyone else is an immigrant (Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier). As new technology arises, our methods of communication and social interaction have evolved. With these new forms of communication, a window has opened for harassment. In the past five years alone, there has been a dramatic rise in the use of technology and communication media to intimidate, manipulate, and humiliate others (Spears et al. 189). This behavior among adolescents and teens has been given the name “cyberbullying” by the media. According to STOP Cyberbullying, a volunteer organization dedicated to promoting online safety, cyberbullying is when a child is harassed, embarrassed, or targeted by another child through the internet or other digital technology (Aftab). The difference between cyberbullying and traditional bullying lies in the context of the action; it can be virtual or in a physical reality. However, being in a virtual world does not make the torment any less real for the victims. Cyberbullying can actually have a greater effect than traditional bullying, because the tormented have no way to escape. It can happen anytime, can be seen by millions (pictures or posts in public domains), and allows the tormentor to remain hidden behind the screen (Spears et al. 189).

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According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of exchanges that qualify as cyberbullying do not take place in full public view. This is because the majority of teens take various steps to manage their privacy online (Lenhart et al.). Hateful private messages, Instant messages, or texts from unknown parties seem to be the trend. When an adolescent is targeted, no realm is completely safe. If they have a phone, if they have a Facebook or MySpace account, or if they frequent chat rooms, they open themselves up to possible harm and hateful messages. Interaction requires exposure to other people, and not always ones with good intent. When a child is harassed online, they do not know where to turn. Cyberbullying makes victims feel vulnerable and alone, trapped (Spears et al.192). This was the case for one Missouri teen Megan Meier. The Megan Meier foundation, a nonprofit organization set up to memorialize Megan and raise awareness for cyberbullying, describes Megan was 13-year-old girl who loved swimming, rap music, and boys. She had struggled for years with her weight, and had been seeing a therapist for depression. Things were looking up for her though at the start of eighth grade. She had lost 20 pounds, was on the school volleyball team, and was looking forward to getting her braces off. In the fall of 2006, she added another positive; a relationship online with a cute boy she knew as 16-year-old Josh Evans. The two clicked quickly after befriending each other on MySpace, and then began a steady correspondence. Having a boy’s attention for the first time seemed to give her a refreshing, rosy outlook on life. Megan would hurry home from school just so she could talk to him (Poken). On October 15th, after more than a month of communication, Megan received a message from Josh that read, “I don't know if I want to be friends with you any longer because I hear you're not nice to your friends.” Electronic bulletins began to be posted about Megan,

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commenting on her looks and claiming she was promiscuous. Megan was crushed, unable to understand why her relationship had unraveled or why she was being targeted in such a way. She was inconsolable when her parents got home from work, crying uncontrollably at the mean comments. When her father tried to reach out, she brushed past him and ran upstairs to her bedroom. Twenty minutes later, her mother got a terrible chill (Poken). Megan’s body was discovered in a bedroom closet, and she was pronounced dead on October 16th , 2006. The pain and frustration proved too much, and sadly, Megan saw no alternative than to take her own life. Six weeks after her death, Megan’s parents discovered that Josh was a fake. The mother of one of Megan’s old friends (whom Megan had had a falling out with) created Josh’s profile so she could learn more about Megan, and manipulate her feelings in a vengeful manner (Poken). Megan was the victim of a horrible scheme, and her previous history of depression meant she was more susceptible to mood swings, and less equipped to handle the frustration and torment. Her story gained media attention because of shock value, but the reality is that she is not the only one who has experienced this type of abuse. Nearly half of all teenagers report being a victim of at least one cyber-attack. (“ABC Good Morning America”). Common sense seems to dictate that cyberbullying cannot produce physical harm, and is therefore not a big deal. Cyberbullying harms a child psychologically. So while cyberbullying cannot be labeled a “cause of death”, it can be a treacherous shove into emotional tumult that has an undeniable impact on young teens like Megan. Her father knew the power of those words; he said that Megan’s choice was ultimately her own, "But it was like someone handed her a loaded gun,"(Poken). Bullying provides emotional ammunition for adolescents.

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Like Megan, it can be difficult for well-meaning kids to distinguish between friends and bullies online (“ABC Good Morning America). This is in part due to a degree of anonymity that accompanies any interaction using technology. People are not always who they claim to be. Anonymity allows kids to act out online in ways they might not venture to in person. This creates a world where someone whose identity is hidden, and who will likely never see repercussions for their actions can attack the victim. Bullies can assume the identity of friends, or can be incognito, with no identity at all. It is frightening for a victim to be harassed by someone who he or she does not know, but who knows him or her. The aggressor usually comes from inside a social group and is most likely someone the victim knows, but the victim is unaware of their online agenda. Therefore, the bully has perceived anonymity (Mishna, Saini and Sullivan 1224). Cyberbullying has been labeled by Spears et al. as a form of “covert” bullying, because the actions are hidden or carried out in secretive manners. Cyberbullying operations happen behind the screens. (189). Kids become bolder when their victim is not in front of them, and they cannot directly witness the consequences of their actions. Cyberbullies are spared repercussions because of how removed they are from victims. If a bully is not identified, then they can do whatever they please from their computer. Traditional bullying is made possible by an imbalance of power between victim and tormentor. According to Monks and Smith, this power “can be social, psychological, or physical in nature” (801). Technology alters the usual dynamic of bullying relationships by removing a need for physical power, and by changing who can hold social or psychological power. A child who would be labeled and outcast by his peers, and whom you would think of as a typical bullying target, can turn the internet into his own kingdom. There no one knows who he is, and

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he can be whoever he wants to be. He can exact revenge on those who hurt him in the past, and he would certainly be motivated. For this reason, there is no “stereotypical” cyberbully; the outcast is just as capable as and possibly even more likely than the conventional bully is. Dooley, Pyzalski and Cross-point out that cyberbullying can place the victim in a position of power, because they have the ability to terminate online interactions with bullies (183), whereas in traditional face-to-face bullying the victim would be physically cornered. While I believe this argument is valid, it does not apply to every case. Cyberbullying can manifest as humiliating, degrading pictures or posts in public domains, where millions of people have access to them. Once posted, information is not easy to remove, and can haunt a victim for a lifetime. Tyler Clementi’s name may sound familiar. He was intelligent, a talented violinist, avid bicyclist, and a kind spirit. Tyler was also gay, and had just recently begun to open up to the people closest to him when he started at Rutgers University in the fall of 2010. The first few weeks were an exciting time for Tyler; he was celebrating his acceptance into the high-level orchestra at school, and he was enjoying his new freedom. Then, unbeknownst to him, Tyler’s roommate set up a web-cam and started spying. Tyler and another young man were filmed while having an intimate encounter, and Tyler’s roommate made the feed available for others to watch. When he realized what had happened, Tyler was ashamed at how he had become a subject of ridicule. He committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge less than a week later (The Tyler Clementi Foundation). In Tyler’s case, the cyberbullying was not concealed or covert. One vicious individual blasted his image across campus and the internet, and the impact it had on Tyler is indisputable. Another difference between traditional and cyberbullying is location. With traditional bullying, location is key, and opportunities are spare. As stated above, bullies are opportunistic,

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preying on less powerful children when they have minimal chance of being caught (Lebrun 36). With little to no adult supervision and access at any time, the internet provides infinite opportunities for kids with motive. When it comes to the cyberbullying, most Americans will readily agree that it is an issue. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of how much we should care. Whereas some are convinced that we have an epidemic on our hands, others maintain that the media has exaggerated the extent of the problem. It is easy to stand behind the victims like Megan Meier, and judge the actions of the bully. However, the majority of cyberbullying cases do not come to our attention. This is because victims are not likely to stand up and identify themselves. According to Marcel Lebrun, “it is the victim’s silence that has fostered the belief in the bully that bullying is acceptable behavior and a victim just needs to live with it,” (33). If more victims would speak up, by telling their parents or teachers, then the occurrences would decrease. I do not think that bullying can ever be eradicated from our culture, but working towards a safer internet environment would help many kids suffering in silence. Motions are already being made to regulate behavior online around the country. In North Carolina, there are laws against bullying as well as cyberbullying. Statute 14-458.1 states that it is unlawful to: With the intent to intimidate or torment a minor … post a real or doctored image of a minor on the Internet… Use a computer system for repeated, continuing, or sustained electronic communications, including electronic mail or other transmissions, to a minor…. [or] post or encourage others to post on the Internet private, personal, or sexual information pertaining to a minor (North Carolina Legislature).

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While passing laws against harassment online is a step in the right direction, it does not seem to have made much of a dent in the hordes of kids spreading hate online. In order to make a significant change in the frequency of cyberbullying attacks, two things must be done. Adults need to be made aware of what their kids are doing online, and the laws have been adopted need to be enforced. Michelle Ybarra, a research director for the Center for Innovative Health Research in California, says “We assume it’s this overwhelming thing, that everybody’s being bullied and that it’s inescapable -- that’s not totally accurate,” (Briggs ). Not every child has experiences with cyberbullying or even traditional bullying, but the reality is that the problem exists, and we can either feign ignorance or do something about it. One reason for Ybarra’s doubt of the universal reach of cyberbullying is her definition. Ybarra’s conclusions are flawed because she deliberately excludes one-time incidences from her definition of cyberbullying. Single instances, sometimes called cyber harassment, should be included with the definition of cyber bullying, in my opinion. Bullying of any kind is a wrong, no matter where it happens, because it influences how a child feels (Kevorkian and D’Antona 88). It is difficult to dispute the effects of bullying, regardless of the medium through which it occurs. Any type of harassment is harmful and can lead to fear, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety in the victims. While traditional bullying can leave physical marks like bruises or cuts, cyberbullying seems to leave victims with a deeper psychological hurt; as in the cases of Megan Meier and Tyler Clementi, the pain and embarrassment is overwhelming, and the victims resort to the only way out they can find. Cyberbullying can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Texting, typing, filming and sending are actions that are tangible; they have an existence in the

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physical world. What kids need to realize is that words are backed by actions and intent, and they cannot be taken back, even if they can be deleted.

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Works Cited Aftab, Parry. STOP Cyberbullying. Wired Safety. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. Briggs, Billy. “Cyberbullying not as rampant as thought, study suggests.” Childrens Health 10 Aug. 2012. NBC News. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. Dooley, Julian J., Jacek Pyzalski, and Donna Cross. “Cyberbullying Versus Face-to-Face Bullying: A Theoretical and Conceptual Review.” Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Journal of Psychology 217.4 (2009):182-188. EBSCOhost Discovery Service. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. Dretzin, Rachel, prod. Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier. 2008. Film. 9 Sept. 2012. Kevorkian, Meline and Robin D’Antona. 101 Facts About Bullying: What Everyone Should Know. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2008. Print. Lebrun, Marcel. Books, Blackboards, and Bullets: School Shootings and Violence in America. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009. Print. Lenhart, Amanda, Mary Madden, Aaron Smith, Kristen Purcell, Kathryn Zickuhr, and Lee Rainie.“Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship’.” Pew Research Center. 9 Nov. 2011. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. Mishna, Faye, Michael Saini, and Steven Solomon. “Ongoing and Online: Children and youth’s perceptions of cyberbullying.” Children and Youth Services Review 31.12 (2009):12221228. EBSCOhost Discovery Service. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. Monks, C.P., and P.K. Smith. “Definitions of bullying: Age differences in understanding of the term, and the role of experience.” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 24 (2006):801-821. Wiley Online Library. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

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North Carolina Legislature. North Carolina Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies. 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. "Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen's Suicide." ABC Good Morning America. ABC News, 19 2007. Web. 4 Nov 2012. Poken, Steve. “Megan Meier's Story.” Megan Meier Foundation. Charlotte’s Web Studios, L.L.C., 13 Nov. 2007. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. Spears, Barbara, et al. “Behind the Scenes and Screens: Insights into the Human Dimension of Covert and Cyberbullying.” Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Journal of Psychology, 217.4 (2009):189-196. EBSCOhost Discovery Service. Web. 15 Oct. 2012 The Tyler Clementi Foundation. McMillian + Furlow, 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.