I would like you all to take a moment and close your eyes. Without opening them, raise your hand if you have ever been the victim of bullying. Now raise your hand if you have ever been the bully. Finally, raise your hand if you have ever watched someone being bullied.
You can open your eyes now.
We can all recall experiences involving bullying whether we were the perpetrator, the victim, or a bystander and, chances are, we're embarrassed about it. More recently, "cyberbullying" has taken prevalence in the lives of teens and young adults. In order to put an end to it, we must open our eyes and looking bullying right in the face.
Cyberbullying is when someone is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, or otherwise targeted by use of the internet, digital technologies, or mobile phones. This can include anything from harassment via text and instant messages to discussions on message boards or blogs and even worse. As more and more student-aged children gain access to the internet, the social aspect of school expands far beyond the buildings in which they learn.
According to anti-bullying organizations, cyberbullying doesn't exist once anyone older than eighteen is involved. Maybe that's why this topic seems to be forgotten about after high school, and even in some areas, middle school. The fact of the matter is, cyberbullying doesn't just go away; it just takes on an uglier name with more severe consequences.
In elementary school we watched the nerds have their lunch stolen or isolated from the 'in-crowd.' Movies like Mean Girls takes us on a journey through the competitive halls of high school in which people fight for popularity and acceptance from their peers. But what happens to those that don't gain it? 'Burn Books' and photoshopped flyers aren't the most realistic form of bullying anymore.
People, young adults most importantly, turn to the internet to voice their opinions about anything and everything. The problem with this freedom is that most young adults abuse what the internet has to offer.
At Rutgers University just last semester, students mourned the loss of one of their own: Tyler Clementi, whose death was one of five suicides by homosexual teenagers in just three short weeks. Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge days after his roommate posted a video on the internet of him being intimate with another man. That same week, 13-year-old Seth Walsh hanged himself after facing cyber harassment for being gay.
Sure, Tyler and Seth were different from their classmates, but the hatred they faced was more than any schoolyard bully could ever inflict.
Videos uploaded to Youtube can go viral within hours, spanning to millions of viewers across the world. With just a click of a mouse, words can be uploaded to a blog that can be then read by anyone with access to the internet, reblogged, and circulated to reach larger audiences. This takes bullying to a whole new level.
Children used to tease each other on playgrounds; now they do it on websites, namely social networking services like Facebook and Myspace.
Another difference that comes with the cyber form of bullying is the opportunity for attack. Whereas bullying often took place out of the eyes of authority figures during lunch or between classes, cyber bullying can happen any minute of any day. Furthermore, these attacks can be anonymous, repetitive, and difficult to ignore.
You might be thinking to yourself: we're in college, this stuff doesn't happen anymore.
CollegeACB (College Anonymous Confession Board) is a website that allows students from more than 500 schools across the US to post anonymous gossip, rumors, and discussions about people and college-related activities. Penn State even has its own board on the site. You can surf through the message boards to find posts about who has the most STD's in the freshman class to which sorority girl is easiest to hook up with. After just five minutes on website I found the names of three people I know along with rumors and gossip that were horribly inaccurate. Don't believe me? Go home and run your name through their database to see if anyone has anything to say about you.
But it doesn't stop there. Sexting is something most of us laugh at but, in reality, it's a serious issue. Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or pictures, primarily between cell phones. Though you might send a personal message or picture to someone, you'd be surprised as to where it could end up. Last year the New York Times ran a story about a 14-year-old girl who had sent a naked picture to her boyfriend via text only to have it forwarded on and on until hundreds - maybe even thousands - of people had seen her nude. Sexting is not illegal but it could have serious consequences, especially if a minor is involved.
So what can we do about this issue? For starters, we can begin to accept people for who and what they are. We are all different so what makes any of us able to harass someone else? It's easy to turn a blind eye to cyberbullying but you don't have to be a hero to save someone's day. Report any harassment you might see on Facebook, blogs, or message boards.
Also, be careful what you put on the internet. Once you post something online, it is can never be completely private again. Think about what you're saying before you hit the "enter" button because no matter how many people "like" it, your words could be hurtful and hold severe consequences.