Bullying Takes Up an Anonymous Front

Facebook, Honesty Box, and Formspring have replaced swirlies and fist fights

Due to the evolution of social networking sites, the traditional definition of bullying has changed. Where bullying once meant getting shoved into a locker, the Internet now gives students an outlet to attack their peers from the safety of their own bedroom. Although these sites were created to connect with old friends, they have become forums for public ridicule.

Cyberbullying has become an issue throughout the country, the most drastic of which has resulted in suicide.

On Jan. 14, 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after repeated harassment on her Facebook and through text messages. Similarly, in 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself after the mother of a former friend created a faux profile and taunted her over Facebook. In 2003, 13-year-old Ryan Halligan committed suicide after cruel instant messaging comments. These three teenagers represent a much larger group of young people who are victims of cyberbullying. Although suicide is the most extreme result, many others suffer silently.

“For a while I didn’t want to deal with anyone. I wouldn’t go out and buy food during lunch, because I felt like I was going to be attacked,” said senior Alex Trujillo. Throughout middle school and freshman year, Trujillo was bullied through Facebook.
Due to applications on Facebook such as Honesty Box, as well as sites like Formspring, people can anonymously attack their peers without seeing the repercussions. With questions such as “what do you really think of me?” students are given the opportunity to point out people’s flaws.

“People will hide behind their computer,” said senior Alex Nikban. “The type of person who bullies over Honesty Box doesn’t have the guts to say it to their face. It’s easier to hide behind an anonymous front.”

Honesty Box is similar to “slam books” of previous generations, before the Internet. It is important to note that while Honesty Box provides anonymity, this form of emotional, rather than physical, bullying has been around for decades.

After receiving demoralizing messages on Facebook, Miramonte alum Christina Beck realized the impact that this cruelty can have. “Someone is able to deeply hurt another person secretly over the Internet, and then can be friendly in person, without the victim even knowing it,” said Beck.

Formspring is a website which allows students to ask other students questions on their profile anonymously, and these answers are posted publicly. Senior Brian Henson is a former Formspring user, but he deactivated his account after a few months. “A lot of people bring it on themselves, because they’re inviting people to anonymously talk to them about anything. If you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, then don’t sign up for it,” said Henson.

Some believe that the Internet, as opposed to the bullies, is to blame for this new phenomena. These sites are a venue for students to say hurtful things who might not have otherwise. “You open up your life to everyone on Facebook. Once someone posts a picture or a comment, it’s there forever. Facebook is pretty scary in that way,” said Nikban.

Facebook has come to realize the problems that its site poses, and has developed a campaign entitled “Facebook Safety.” On the right hand side of the main Facebook page, different celebrites have posted public service announcement videos, from Vinny of Jersey Shore to Luke Pritchard, lead singer of The Kooks. These videos encourage people to be kind to their fellow Facebook users and offer a clear message of equality and respect. While this is not an automatic fix to the cyberbullying problem, it is a step in the right direction and an acknowledgment of the issue. 
   

The Miramonte administration must often mediate the fights that occur online. Before the Internet, the administration was needed to break apart fights that would occur at school. Today, these fights go on at home, within the privacy of students’ bedrooms.

According to Section 234-234.3 of the California Ed. Code, “It is the policy of the State of California to ensure that all local educational agencies continue to work to reduce discrimination, harassment, and violence. It is further the policy of the state to improve pupil safety at schools and the connections between pupils and supportive adults, schools, and communities.”

“Anything with that much potential for good has an equal amount of potential for harm when misused,” said Associate Principal Sharon Bartlett. “We must act with empathy and awareness when we’re using these sites. Cyberbullying is a problem.”

Some of the victims of this type of bullying have learned to cope with this issue, and offer advice to students who are facing it currently. “It made me stronger, because now I know that their opinions don’t matter,” said Trujillo.

Nikban has also learned to monitor his activity. “I’ve learned to be careful with what I post, and use privacy settings,” said Nikban. “I’ve also learned to not take comments too seriously, and to not get involved with the drama, because none of this will matter after high school.”

Beck offers this advice as well: “Tough times never last, but tough people do,” she said. “Put effort into friends and family, and focus on yourself.”

For now, this issue remains a threat to students. If used correctly, these social networking sites can be a way to connect with old friends and meet new ones. By the same token, these sites have expanded the drama of high school to outside the campus. Students used to be safe from ridicule inside their home, now they can no longer escape. Until people accept that hurting others does not make them any stronger, cyberbullying will remain an issue in society.