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Teens Talk About Online Abuse
YCteen staff

If you read or watch much news, you’ve probably noticed that “cyberbullying” is a big topic these days. Media have extensively covered stories of teens and young adults driven to desperation and even suicide by taunts and aggression encountered online. Here, YCteen writers discuss their own experiences and views of abuse and bad behavior online.

Describe examples of cyberbullying that you’ve heard of or encountered.

Neha Basnet: There’s a Facebook page that basically has naked pictures of girls. The person who made it is anonymous, but if you have a revealing picture of a girl that you want posted on the website, you just send it to their e-mail, and they post it. Facebook has shut it down, like, 20 times already, but whoever’s making it keeps making backup pages.

I think Formspring, a site where people can ask each other questions anonymously, involves cyberbullying. People ask questions like, “Why are you so ugly?”

What do people get out of posting damaging pictures or negative comments about others?

Edward Francois: It’s more emotional than logical. For one, it’s a way to get revenge because it’s anonymous. The person is shamed and humiliated, and you get away with it scot-free.

Kiara Ventura: I think boys distribute naked pictures of girls because they just want to ruin the girls’ reputations for whatever reason.

Edward: Or to show off: “This girl sent me a naked picture.”

Neha: Maybe if you’re jealous of someone. Or couples, when they break up, vent about each other just to get the other person mad.

Kiara: They go online and they’re like, “Oh, I love being single!”

Neha: Yeah.

It sounds like people have an impulse to turn personal dramas into public ones.

Edward: Did anybody else do this when they were little: If you got angry at somebody, you’d write the most hurtful, evil thing you could say to a person—and then throw it in the garbage? That has prevented me from saying a lot of things to people. Putting it online is permanent. Putting it on paper and then throwing it away, burning it—that helps you get all your feelings out, and then just let it go.

Jozina Campbell: But now that people have adapted to the Internet, they probably find it easier to go on their Facebook page than pick up a pen and paper.

Edward: The point of Facebook and similar websites is to not be private. It’s: Whatever you’re thinking, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you wish you could do, just put it online.

“Going public” is only exciting if there’s an audience. What makes you, as the audience, pay attention?

Kiara: I think it’s because we’re human—we’re just nosy. It’s like if you’re on the highway and you see a car accident—obviously you’ll look at it.

Why do humans want to see whatever awful thing is happening?

Jozina: Because everyone’s going to be talking about it.

Kiara: Like in school, if there’s a fight, people gather around whoever’s fighting.

Neha: It’s not something you see all the time. It’s out of the ordinary, and it entertains you or amuses you.

image by YC-Art Dept

Some of you have visited that page where the pictures of naked girls are posted. Do you find that site amusing?

Neha: No. Well, sometimes. I mean—if I see someone I don’t know, I feel bad for them but it’s like, “Why would you take a picture like that?” But when I did see someone I knew, that’s when I felt really bad. Then it’s personal.

How should a person react if they’re being insulted or threatened online by a peer?

Jozina: People, no matter what, should defend themselves, so it doesn’t look like whatever is being said about you is true. You can respond in a mature way; you don’t have to bash the person who’s attacking you.

Paldon Dolma: Telling your parents won’t help, because they won’t be with you 24-7. So I think it’s better to defend yourself.

Edward: I used to be bullied, beaten up. I told my parents and they got involved, and I just got beat up even more.

But I think you have to tell somebody. Going it alone is not the best thing to do, because there could be more than one person doing this anonymously, and it’s just you versus an unknown number.

Kiara: I think you should avoid the person, not even respond at all. You can easily block them on Facebook or AIM. If they post a picture of you, I don’t know, untag yourself?

Edward: Don’t take naked pictures of yourself, ever. And make sure the friends you have on Facebook are people you actually know in your life and talk to. Meeting a person one time doesn’t mean they should be your friend on Facebook.

Paldon: Keep your Facebook profile private. You shouldn’t write everything on Facebook.

Jozina: Watch the situations you get yourself into. Avoid talking to the wrong people in your school.

What do you think schools should do to prevent and combat cyberbullying?

Neha: In our school, the dean got involved when students were abusing Formspring. People were threatening others. Our school had a meeting where they told us, “Don’t think you can do this anonymously anymore, because we can track you down if parents ask us to.”

Schools have become more aware of cyberbullying, so now if you tell your parents and your parents tell the school, the school’s able to arrange a meeting with the other person’s parents—or even, if you want, they can look online and figure out who’s doing it. At my school, when there’s a problem, you sit down with the dean. You don’t have to speak directly to the other person, but the dean will hear what you have to say. [The bully] also has to sign a paper that says they won’t do anything like this anymore, kind of like a contract.

Edward: We’ve had assemblies saying that cyberbullying is wrong, but we’ve had assemblies about a lot of things—how to prevent pregnancy, how to prevent HIV, yet I see a girl in my school walking around carrying a baby. So it’s good to get the message out, but you have to reinforce it. The teachers can’t go online and just stop cyberbullying right there, but if it gets too serious, they should have a plan in place to put the brakes on somehow.

Neha, in your school, is there a punishment if the bully violates the contract?

Neha: I think you get suspended.

If you’re a target of online abuse, should that be grounds for transferring schools?

Jozina: You should be able to transfer if it’s really bad. Bullying can affect you in so many ways—kids are committing suicide over it. So I feel there should be action taken rather than the school just telling you, “Well, they didn’t physically threaten you, they didn’t physically do anything to you.” So what? It’s the same thing—it can get to that point where it’s physical.

Neha: Especially because school is supposed to be a safe space, a learning space, and if you’re not comfortable and you’re distracted, it’s going to keep you from your education.

Editor’s Note: In June 2010, New York State passed the Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect in July 2012. This is a general anti-bullying measure that does not specifically address cyberbullying, but it requires school districts to “create policies and guidelines” to keep schools free from harassment, to help employees recognize and respond to harassment when it occurs, and to train at least one staff member in anti-discrimination counseling, among other things. For more details, see: nysenate.gov/press-release/dignity-all-students-act

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