Cyberbulling brought to a new personal level

Sara Kloepfer

“No one likes you because you’re an ugly b****,” read the Honesty Box message Samantha received upon logging onto her Facebook one day.

“I never responded, but they kept sending me mean messages like that until I finally deleted my Honesty Box,” said Samantha, who asked her name be changed. “I was so upset that someone would go out of their way to hurt me and the worst part is I still don’t know who did it and I probably never will.”

Honesty Box, a Facebook application that allows users to send anonymous messages, is just one of the many weapons in a cyberbully’s arsenal these days.

“I think that Honesty Boxes are okay because you don’t have to have one, but Bathroom Wall is awful and hurtful and addicting,” said Allison, who also asked her name to be changed. “Many of my friends and people I know have become addicted to reading Bathroom Wall and writing on it. It is the worst feeling to have a rumor spread about you for everyone to see and comment on and have no idea who started it and why they would [do that].”

Bathroom Wall is a Facebook application with an anonymous message board on which users can post and reply to discussion topics.

“Using Bathroom Wall is the easy way out if you have something you want to say but don’t want people to know it was you,” said Allison. “People also post things like ‘Who’s the hottest girl in the freshman class?’ so then some girls are being complimented while some end up getting criticized, and it’s really bad for people’s self-esteem.”

Facebook and similar social networking Web sites such as Myspace have quickly become the most common forums for cyberbullying due to their popularity.

“By cyberbullying, people abuse the point of having a Facebook. It’s for socializing with friends online, not using it as a way to bully people,” said sophomore Sophie DeLancie.

Cyberbullying can range from sending and posting pictures that the victim does not want on the Internet to establishing a fake profile in order to impersonate the victim.

“Almost everybody cyberbullies, especially girls,” said Allison. “It’s just that some people do it in more aggressive ways.”

Nancy Willard, Executive Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, said the prevalence of cyberbullying is due to the widespread popularity of electronic communications.

“Young people have always had difficulties with interpersonal relationships and aggression,” said Willard. “This is due to their development path – hormones, brain development, and being put together in groups of hundreds of other youth. Think of the number of individuals teens must interact with compared to most adults. Now teens are simply engaging in these interpersonal difficulties using their new medium of communication.”

Jessica, who asked her name be changed to protect her sister, witnessed this behavior in action.

“My sister was cyberbullied in eighth grade by people who she thought were her friends,” said Jessica. “It was horrible; they used Facebook as a way to talk about her so that she couldn’t see it because she didn’t have one. She was really affected by [the bullying] and cried all the time just because these girls were using the Internet to be mean.”

Scenarios like Jessica’s are becoming more and more common, and sometimes they can have extreme results.

“Whatever a young person posts or sends can be used for bullying purposes,” said Willard. “I just read a story about a young girl who sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend, who promptly sent them on. So this girl then began to be bullied as a slut and a whore. She actually committed suicide.”

In order to avoid dangerous situations as a result of cyberbullying, Willard advises that teens be wary of posting material that could be used against them.

“I think we need to help young people learn what kinds of behaviors might trigger others to engage in aggressive behavior towards them,” said Willard.

Willard says the worst thing for teens to do is retaliate.

“The important things for teens who are receiving online aggression is to not immediately react; this often just adds fuel to the fire,” said Willard. “They should wait until they have calmed down, then calmly and strongly tell the person to stop, file an abuse report or complaint with the site, simply block the person from communicating, or perhaps ask a friend for assistance in defusing the situation.”

According to Willard, teens who witness the cyberbullying can help their friend in a variety of ways.

“They can advise the teen who is being targeted, try to negotiate a truce, file a complaint or abuse report, show an adult what is happening, and even some will be brave enough to speak out publicly against the harm,” said Willard.