Cyberbullying: the new schoolyard bully

Jakob Giles, Staff Writer

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Most people find themselves online just about every day. Whether it is to check email, do some homework, hop onto Instagram or send a Snapchat, we find ourselves spending a lot of time in the cyber world. Just like the real world, this place can be nasty. Rude comments, false identities and harassment run rampant through the waves of the internet. Some people ignore them, some get offended and some even take their own lives.

One such person is Megan Meier, who committed suicide in 2006 at age 13 after being bullied online. Meier lived in Dardenne Prairie and her neighbor’s mother hid behind the false identity of an online admirer. Her mother, Tina Meier, came to the school Nov. 15 to talk to students about cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a major problem. According to nobullying.com 52% of young people have reported being cyberbullied, not including those who choose not to report a case.

“I almost feel like cyberbullying has become the new bullying.” Deborah Kravitz, counselor, said.

Cyberbullying takes many forms. In some cases, people are unaware that they are, by definition, cyberbullying. For example, behind the mask of a computer screen things like sarcasm or dry humor can be misunderstood. Things can be taken out of proportion, even if they were meant as a joke. But it also can be blatant verbal abuse, which is meant to tear someone down. That abuse can be too much to bear, and ultimately lead to someone taking their own life.

This form of bullying has a leg up on the former “schoolyard” bully. Every bully has the power of anonymity. They can hide behind their computer screens or phones and fulfill their sadistic intentions without anyone ever knowing their true identity. In many cases, people have created false accounts and posed as other, or fake, people. Not only does this ability give people another vehicle to bully, it is also a form of identity fraud.

So, cyberbullying has affected people across the country including about 57% of our school, according to a survey sent out to students. That is slightly over the national average.

“There is a lot of cyberbullying that occurs here,” Kravitz said. “I don’t think I would even be able to count. The problem is, most of the incidents here are related to something that happened on the internet.”

Many fights in school can be traced back to cyberbullying. People send distasteful comments online, other people get mad, and a fight breaks out in the hallway. Not only is this affecting those in the fight, but it disrupts the school’s environment and the larger student body’s ability to learn.

One of the key things to be careful of is the reaction to cyberbullying. There are many options: ignoring it, reporting it, blocking the sender, or retaliating against the sender. The best option, since cyberbullying is illegal in Missouri, is to report it to a trusted adult, or the police. However, again, according to our school survey, only about 26% of the school say that they have reported a case of cyberbullying. The most common option was to ignore the comments, at 61%.

There are many solutions to the problem of cyberbullying.

“Every single thing has a consequence,” Meier said. “You have no clue of their life.”

What we say to others online is important, and people can misunderstand our comments. We can make sure that we don’t say anything to people that we wouldn’t want them to say to us, and avoid accidental bullying.

Another thing we can do is stand up to the bullies of the internet and force them to rethink their actions.

“Sometimes standing up and looking at them (the bully) face to face and calling them out on what they’re doing, sometimes it gets them to think differently,” said Meier.

Finally, we can report cases of cyberbullying more often. Again, only 26% of those at school who have been cyberbullied reported it. A great way to reduce cyberbullying is to tell a trusted adult when it happens.

Though the common solution is to unplug, that simply isn’t realistic. 92% of our teenage population, according to Pew Research, goes online every day. People aren’t going to yield their electronic devices to some words on a screen, even if these words make them feel devastated.

“Bullying and cyberbullying are just words, but underneath are the things we do with them.” Meier explained.

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The school newspaper of University City High School
Cyberbullying: the new schoolyard bully