21st-century bullying

The facts of social networking

Not just for ‘friends’ anymore, social media sites have become battlegrounds across the country … with tragic results

By Pauline Ojambo

Talon staff writer

This case has not been noticed. News reporters talk about it frequently, parents warn their children. The Internet has made it an easy way for people to get what they want without dealing with consequences. There is a large controversy about it. Is it a crime, or is it the exercise of free speech?

This controversy is cyberbullying.

“I have heard a little bit about the deaths of people who have been cyber bullied, some of which committed suicide, and others I believe were brutally beaten and later on died,” said sophomore Bryanna Williamson. “It’s really sad knowing that such young kids are doing these harsh, mean things to people over petty disputes. And all that these kids are capable of, it’s scary and shocking, and it saddens me that these kids have to go through this.”

Bullying is causing physical or verbal harassment. It may involve teasing, spreading rumors, damaging possessions, provoking fear and excluding another person.

Cyberbullying has become a bigger problem because technology has made it sneakier. More and more cases are popping up involving cyber bullying. Even when they are displayed on the news, on the radios and on the internet, many people are not aware of it and the results of cyber bullying can be fatal as recent reports prove.

Cyber bullying can be many things including a word texted or a message posted that cause pain or hurt to the person that receives it. It is the use of media to wound and injure others.

Cyber bullying is different from other forms of bullying, it is more concealed. A cyber bully does not have to be bigger or more aggressive as the person they are bullying, but like all bullies they continue if not challenged.

Five young men were alleged to have committed suicide after anti-gay harassment; two of them were thirteen-year-olds, Asher Brown of Harris County, Texas, and Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, Calif, two of them were fifteen-year-olds, Justin Aaberg of Anoka County, Minnesota, and Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana and the last was eighteen year old Tyler Clementi of New Jersey. Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Clementi’s roommate and a friend secretly recorded a video that involved Clementi in homosexual activity and allegedly released it online.

The targets of cyber bullying can be verbally or emotionally attacked. The difference between bullying and cyber bullying is that, cyber bullying is hard to escape for teens that may use email, Facebook and texting as a form of communication.

The protection the computer screen provides makes it easier for bullies to be malicious. Cyber bullying sometimes follows physical bullying.

On Oct.18, an anti-bullying session was held at the Minnesota Legislature. An anti-bullying bill was voted on but did not pass. Preliminary approval however, was given to another bill that expanded the anti-bullying policies.

The bill listed certain characteristics that specified targets of bullying. The characteristics included sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability and national origin. Minnesota state senator Dibble sponsored the bill.

“The laws now are ineffective and inadequate,” said Scott Dibble in an interview. “The bill clarifies what school districts need to do to help stop bullying. They need to adopt a policy that says bullying is prohibited. The policy must be specific for all kids. I am gay; I was a target of harassment as a child. The bill is about more than cyber bullying, what my bill does is consolidates and clears confusion.”

Republicans were against the bill, but it still passed in the senate 43 to 22. Minnesota State Senator David Hann urged members to vote against the bill. He said the current law already covered all forms of bullying.

“The purpose of the bill was to bring forward the ongoing truth about what I knew about bullying,” said Dibble.

The bill didn’t pass in the house. Governor Tim Pawlenty had vetoed the bill once, but individuals who were dissatisfied with the length of the sessions agenda were convinced to wait until next year. Some Minnehaha students support the idea of a new law.

“I think cyber bullying should count as some kind of crime if it results in death or suicide so that people are more aware that this isn’t just a game, and this really affects people’s lives especially on top of the daily stresses of teenagers,” said Williamson.

“When I write things anywhere, especially email or Facebook, I look at who it could impact or affect,” said Williamson. “I also look at different ways that what I say can be interpreted, so I always make sure that what I’m conveying through email or Facebook is clear and to the point. The last thing I would want to do is offend anyone in any way.”

Other students disagree.

“Cyber bullying is very unfortunate, although making it a crime seems unlikely,” said senior Matt Ferris. “It is simply too hard to police social networks and email especially when these sites try to give their users privacy. Whenever I post something on Facebook, it’s never anything I’m worried about anyone else seeing.

Cyber bullying should not be ignored. Whether you are a victim, a friend or a parent, talking to someone who can help is the first move. Schools should have anti-bullying policies. If nothing happens, find help from a specialist.

“We do have school policies around this issue in our student handbook,” said Minnehaha principal Nancy Johnson.  

“At Minnehaha we encourage students who may feel as if they are being bullied to speak to adult, whether a teacher or a counselor,” said Minnehaha guidance counselor Richard Harris, who has been at the upper school for two months.  “So far no one has come in to me because of cyber bullying or bullying.”

“My parents are very involved in my life on the internet and they make sure to not only warn me of dangers, but to be careful of what I say,” said Williamson. “Even as a 10th grader my parents make sure that I’m not abusing my freedom on the internet. Which I think parents should do to make sure that their kids aren’t bullying or hurting others.”

Freshman Jessamine Von Arx said her parents are also included with her social networking accounts.

“My parents must know my password and be friends with me so that they can look at my wall and the things I say,” said Von Arx. “When I hear about stuff like this, it really bothers me and I wonder what if I had this happening to me, what would I do?”

Can this be stopped? Will there be an end? This answer is unknown, but with awareness comes the chance to help save a life, whether a friend or family member. It also leads to the possibility of slowing the immense growth of cyber bullying.

“Regardless of how you’re born,” said Dibble. “You have the right to go to school, receive an education and feel safe.”

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