Internet opens door to cyber-bullying

Back in 2007, I remember reading a disturbing story about a 13-year-old girl from Missouri who committed suicide after being bullied online by a former friend’s mother. The woman who many have held responsible for the young girl’s death, Lori Drew, created a fake MySpace profile pretending to be an 18-year-old boy, luring the young Megan Meier into a fake relationship in order to find out whether or not Meier was talking about her own daughter.

Drew then began to repeatedly taunt Meier, under the guise of “Josh Evans,” by calling her fat and telling her that the world was better off without her. These messages prompted Meier to hang herself. Although what Drew did was reprehensible, she was only convicted of three misdemeanor charges, and escaped any jail time.

This case, while extreme, really proved to me, and I’m sure to many others, just how dangerous the Internet can be. The sad story of Megan Meier was only the start of a new phenomenon among teenagers across the country that is definitely quite
scary-cyber-bullying.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise though, that the Internet has become the popular arena for bullying, as most high school students and even some middle-schoolers have Facebook profiles and access to the Internet at
school and at home.

With the popularity of social networking sites, it’s easy for anyone to retrieve personal information about others and use that information in harmful ways. The Internet is also becoming such a popular place for bullying because it’s much easier to taunt someone from behind a computer screen than in person.

In many cases, it’s girls who initiate the cyber-bullying. At the beginning of 2010, a 15-year-old girl named Phoebe Price from Massachusetts committed suicide after being taunted in person, and via Facebook and text-messaging. The harassment involved her relationship with a male student at her school. Price was new to town, and other students felt they could easily take advantage of her for that reason.

With movies like Mean Girls and popular TV shows like Gossip Girl, the act of bullying is glorified, and this is something that has had, and continues to have, an influence on young girls. Although I am a fan of both this movie and TV show, I understand that they are only for entertainment purposes, but a lot of younger girls try to emulate the characters that they see on the screen.

Although cyber-bullying has become a trend among young teenagers, even college students are not above this behavior; this is something that I experienced myself earlier this semester. Back in February, some students at St. John’s posted vulgar comments about me, after disagreeing with something I had written in one of my columns. Not only were their comments disrepectful, their behavior was extremely immature for college students.

So how can cyber-bullying be stopped? If even parents, like Drew, are getting in on the act, it seems like it would be almost
impossible to completely put an end to it.

But since Meier’s death, many states have created laws designed to protect children from Internet harassment and humiliation.
In Missouri, for example, cyber-harassment is now a felony instead of a misdemeanor, and the state also has an Internet Harassment Task Force. In Price’s case, six students at her school were charged with felonies for their bullying actions.

While increasing the charges for those that partake in cyber-bullying is necessary and definitely a good place to start, something needs to be done to stop the problem before it starts.

As someone who has witnessed other kids get bullied and teased throughout my years in school, I know first-hand how difficult it is to combat this issue.

Whenever one of my classmates would get teased, other students would also gang up on that student. I hate to admit it, but I would often participate in the teasing so that I could fit in and not get teased myself.

Parents and teachers need to take a more active role in combating cyber-bullying.

There is no easy solution since the Internet is a tricky place to monitor, but parents should definitely have an open dialogue with their children because of all of the negative media influences that may make kids more likely to become bullies.

Younger children should have their online activity monitored at home and at school, and bullies should receive some form of consequences, including having their Internet privileges taken away.

Cyber-bullying is a trend that is only going to continue to grow, and have serious consequences if a
solution is not found.