Sickened by Cyberbullying

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I just read another long, sickening news story (New York Times, December 4) on cyberbullying. There’s plenty of them out there – both cyberbullies and headlines about them. And it’s plain to see that one anecdote after another follows a horrifyingly common pattern:

  1. …Parents notice their child has become withdrawn, miserable; grades drop; skips school.
  2. …Parents prod and student doesn’t communicate.
  3. …Eventually parents dig up the cause: cyberbullying.
  4. …The medium is a social networking site like Facebook or instant/text messages
  5. …The method maximizes the anonymity of the internet and the ease with which identities can be forged; the tyranny of the majority mobilized in a psychological savaging of the victim, unbridled by individual inhibitions
  6. …The cyber-content is sneering, hurtful, obscene; mob mentality quickly escalates the situation.
  7. …The cyber-evidence is unimaginably gruesome, and particularly chilling because it is perpetrated by peers, other young people, often known to the victim, some supposedly friends of the victim; whole groups of peers are attracted by this opportunity to “get in on the action.”

In their own words (article excerpts):

“It’s not the swear words. They all swear. It’s how they gang up on one individual at a time. ‘Go cut yourself.’ Or ‘you are sooo ugly’ — but with 10 u’s, 10 g’s, 10 l’s, like they’re all screaming it at someone.” – Inspector Brunault

Fat bitch.” – someone comments about a 9-year-old girl on her teenage brother’s Facebook wall.

About the proud Facebook photos posted by a 13-year-old New York girl, another girl comments: “hideous” and “this pic makes me throwup a lil.” If she had to choose between the life of an animal and that of the girl in the photos, she continues, she would choose the animal’s, because “yeah, at least they’re worth something.”

At least I don’t take pics of myself in the mirror like a homosexual midget.” Also, “you smell weird.” And “ur such a petaphile.”- Facebook tauntings issued from an impersonated profile.

  1. …When the victim’s parent sees this, the parent is shocked and beside themselves.
  2. …Seeking outside help presents a daunting prospect: Schools seem either impotent or unwilling to handle off-campus matters. The police make very slow, hard work of investigation, if they deem it worthy of the effort at all; prosecutions are rare for “first-time offenders.” Direct contact with website admin or ISPs can  yield disappointing results.
  3. …Parent-intervention or efforts to stop the cyber-bullying may be met with an escalation of the bullying.
  4. …Addressing the perpetrators, if they are discovered, results in anything from dismissal & shoulder shrugging from bullies and the parents of bullies, to pointed fingers at the victim.
  5. …Further investigation reveals the victim has tampered with or deleted crucial evidence, and/or retaliated themselves under the veil of internet anonymity so that the line between victim and bully is blurred and parents are left bewildered and helpless about how to move forward.
  6. …Parents strive but struggle to keep a closer watch over their children’s internet use. All the young people, victim and bully, resent parental monitoring.
  7. …Kids find a way around any barrier erected by their parents. And the vicious cycle continues.

It’s like Lord of the Flies – a fight for survival amongst children who lost their innocence way back in the jungle somewhere. And when the adult arrives to rescue the little savages and bring them back to a world of law and order and civility, his arrival is greeted with bewilderment and tears of grief. Nothing can ever be the way it was before they all came to the island; and the trouble now is that the surprised officer has, himself, lost sight of the ship that would get them off the island.

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It all just makes me sick – physically sick. I don’t plan to offer any pretty platitudes to wrap up this post. I’m guessing there are plenty of unhappy endings.