Research Presentation: Lauryn Hobbs

Cyberbullying: The Evolution of Bullying through Technology

Key Words: Cyberbullying, Evolution, Technology

Cyberbullying by definition is the use of technology to harm others deliberately in a repeated and hostile manner. Upon typing the word cyberbullying on this page not even Word recognized it. Yet, cyberbullying has become a huge issue within our society and mainly among the younger generation. Awareness is growing in the wake of tragedy that has steamed from cyberbullying. The sad fact is that tragedy had to happen before steps were taken to open the eyes of society to the downside of technology and the humans behind it. I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it, but it went something like this “Any ordinary object can become a weapon when placed in the wrong hands”. That is how technology can be interpreted as well. There are many sides to the story of cyberbullying and many excuses that follow the tragedies that take place because of the cyberbullying. I in no way am saying that I hate technology, because I know I would have a hard time not having a cell phone or being able to get on my laptop. There is an allure to having the world at your fingertips and many of us wouldn’t like to give it up, but what happens when having the world at your fingertips leads to a personal vendetta against another human being. When does the person behind the technology become less human? When does the technology give the courage to say things that would never be said in a face to face conversation? Where is the line? And when did we start crossing it? My view on this area is that the person behind the scenes is to blame. But my question on the subject is how does technology enable the person behind the scenes, the bully, to evolve into a cyberbully? By looking deeper into what bullying is, cyberbullying cases that ended in tragedy, the psychological facts behind the bullied and the bullier, and personal testimonies one can draw a conclusion that technology has allowed for a new form of bullying to take over and this form can be far more dangerous.

Bullying means that someone is using superior strength or influence to intimidate someone. In most films it is the weak young boy being bullied by the school jock through physical intimidation. For girls a sneakier route is taken, by getting into the victim’s head. Most commonly the popular girls reject the weird girl who looks different or has some other aspect that isn’t considered “normal” and this is what the popular girls prey on. With bullying the school can take care of the bully most of the time because the bullying takes place within the school and rules and regulations as well as punishments are set up to keep bullying from happening. As the years have passed bullying has evolved into something much more menacing. Children and even parents have found new creative ways to bully children. But again the victim of bullying can get away when the school day ends, or at least they use to be able to. With the invention of facebook, twitter, myspace, IMing, and other forms of social media the bullies can provide round the clock harassment to their victims. Bullying has evolved into cyberbullying.

With cyberbullying some rules and regulations have been put into place, but it’s hard to get a firm grasp on how to keep cyberbullying in check. The internet is a large place with a wide audience making humiliation that much worse for the victim of cyberbullying. Most cyberbullying takes place outside of school and without any indication of cyberbullying within school hours it makes it hard for school administration to dull out punishments. And as most people have been made aware some parents are unaware of their child’s actions, unwilling to take responsibility for their child’s actions, or the parent is the one doing the cyberbullying. It’s a sad fact, but true.

In the case of thirteen-year-old Megan Meier, even when her parents were monitoring her myspace time she became the victim of cyberbullying when the mother of a girl Megan was once friends with made up a fake profile. The mother made up a boy named Josh and started talking to Megan. The mother as well as several others had access to the fake account and used the personal information about Megan to their advantage. Megan’s mother found her hanging from a belt inside her closet.

Ryan Halligan, a thirteen-year-old boy was a victim of something similar when a boy who use to bully Ryan became friends with him. Ryan revealed information to the bully and the bully then put the private information on the internet. After this Ryan than began talking to a popular girl at school. When Ryan tried to talk to her in person she told him she had only talked to him as a joke and that she had shared their private conversations with others. Ryan committed suicide not being able to deal with the humiliation.

Tyler Clementi was eighteen-years-old when he committed suicide after a sexual encounter in his room was video streamed over the internet without Clementi’s knowledge. Jessica Logan committed suicide after a nude photo of her was sent around school and she was harassed for months. Sarah Lynn Butler, a seventh grader, committed suicide after being harassed online and receiving a message on myspace that said that she would be easily forgotten, and that she was just a stupid naïve little girl and nobody would miss her. Phoebe Prince, a fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant was harassed online and called an “Irish slut” and whore. She committed suicide and still girls leave vicious messages on a facebook page set up in her memory. Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. committed suicide after an anti-gay facebook page was made by his classmates and he received death threats on his phone. Rachel Neblett committed suicide after receiving many anonymous emails, the last of which said “I am not going to put you in the hospital I’m going to put you in the morgue”. Hope Witsell hung herself in her bathroom after a nude photo of her was forwarded around school and to other schools, which led to her being suspended from school. Amanda Todd attempted to commit suicide once before she succeed in September 2012. Amanda changed schools several times to try to escape the harassment and online bullying, but each time the bullying caught up with her. There are many other stories similar to these of students who committed suicide after being bullied in school and bullied online and through cell phones.

One factor that has been linked to suicidal ideation is experience with bullying in and around school and the neighborhood (Carney, 2000; High, 2007; Marr & Field, 2001). That is, youth who are bullied or who bully others are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides (Baldry & Winkel, 2003; Mills, Guerin, Lynch, Daly et al., 2004; Rigby & Slee, 1999; van der Wall, de Wit, & Hirasing, 2003). The viability of these links has been strengthened through research showing how experience with peer harassment (most often as a victim but also as a perpetrator) contributes to depression decreased self-worth, hopelessness, and loneliness- all of which are precursors to suicidal thoughts and behavior (Graham & Juvonen, 1998; Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Joiner & Rudd, 1996; Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Marttunen et al., 2000; Langhinrichsen-Rohling & Lamis, 2008; Marr & Field, 2001; Roland, 2002). In addition, some researchers have hypothesized that many bullies previously have been victims and therefore suffer psychological and psychosomatic problems that usher in suicidal risks (vand der Wal, deWit, & Hirasing, 2003). (Archives of Suicide Research)

It’s become clear that bullying has been taken to a whole other level with the addition of the internet and social media sites. How is it that bullying has gone this far though. While many of us look at bullying as something that we rarely see outside of the movies, it’s happening in real life. But the bullying doesn’t end when the last school bell rings, it follows us home. With the internet our thoughts and the thoughts of others can reach world wide audiences, but that also means that bullying can reach anywhere we go. You can run from the bully, but the cyberbully leaves you nowhere to hide. It would be easy to say to just shut down the social media, or to watch every little move that you make so that nothing can be used against you, but the truth is we’re human and things happen. Part of being human to me is making mistakes and learning from them. That’s how we grow. But with the internet, every little aspect of your life can be document, even without your knowledge. Just because you don’t have a facebook account doesn’t mean people have to refrain from writing things about you on their facebook account, or even making an account for you. Look at the new show on MTV, Catfish, it’s all about people using fake identities to meet people. The internet can be an amazingly powerful tool that we can use to our advantage, but it can also be the reason for destroying lives. As I looked through the accounts of children that have committed suicide because of bullying and cyberbullying I was struck by how young some of these students were. When I was thirteen the most I had to worry about was where to sit at lunch. Now students are worried about nude photos being spread around, seventh graders are calling each other whores. The world is quickly changing and with it the technology is growing giving children more access to a world that they may not be quite ready for. As parents I’m sure you can’t monitor your child’s every action, and it’s easy for a child in their early and late teens to get caught up in this world wind idea of growing up and being free. When you’re that age it’s all about finding yourself and exploring the possibilities. You’re still learning. Hell I’m still learning, but with the internet one mistake that should have been meant to as a growing lesson can turn into something completely out of hand. I’m saddened by the idea that innocence is lost at the moment you can access a computer or cell phone. I’m saddened by the idea that human beings can treat each other in such a way, and yet it’s something that is hard to control. It’s evolution.

Works Cited

1. Cavanaugh, Millie A. "Cyberbullying Can Have Deadly Consequences." Aspen Education. Aspen Education Group, 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.

2. Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin Patchin. Archives of Suicide Research. N.p.: Routledge, n.d. Print.

3. "Parental Control | PureSight." Parental Control | PureSight. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2013.