Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 11, 2013

Bullying evolves with technology

— Many social networking sites of late are trying to strike back at cyberbullying, though many of their users feel their efforts are too little, too late.

Both Facebook and Twitter have recently unveiled new “report abuse” sections of their sites devoted to helping people being victimized on social media. Twitter’s came in response to a rape allegation against a woman who proposed putting Jane Austen on English currency.

Facebook has stepped up measures due to numerous cases of bullying ending in suicide and parents suing the site for not intervening when taunts and teasing far exceeded the site’s terms and conditions. Facebook even has a new section advising users on what to do if they are being harassed or bullied.

It won’t help the numerous people — both children and young adults — who have been victimized online already, sometimes to the point of taking their own lives. It is heartbreaking to see some of the messages left for children still in elementary school on this site. It is even worse to see these children’s Facebook pages still receiving hateful messages after they have become a sort of memorial page to their families, the last connection they have with their child.

Of course, it is hard for websites with literally millions of users to police every single message, every single chat and every single comment made on their site. What moves they could make would most likely only punish those who are using the site appropriately. Sometimes, it is just up to the users to police themselves.

A lot of people wonder where these kids are getting all of these hateful messages from, but you need look no further than the “comments” section of any website. You see adults old enough to know better posting hateful, untrue and often unrelated things on news stories, blog posts, YouTube videos and fan forums.

You have the so-called “trolls” who post these comments just for their own kicks and giggles, hoping to get a reaction. After all, these are the same people who rigged a radio contest so a 39-year-old man beat about a bunch of teenyboppers to meet a pop star.

Then you have what is far worse: the people who actually mean these things. There are some comments you can obviously see are fake and meant to stir the pot and then there are the truly hurtful and infuriating comments that were made intentionally to be mean. After all, if Mom or Dad makes a mean, anonymous comment on Yahoo or Topix or some other website who is to say the kids don’t see that as a sign that this sort of thing is fine?

I hear older people say all the time that things like bullying and school violence never happened or at least weren’t as rampant during their day, but I don’t think that is true. After all, my mother and grandmother can still name their biggest school bullies all these years later. They can still remember the exact words those people said to them.

What I do think is true, is that there wasn’t as much widespread, 24-hour media coverage of these events and kids who were bullied were more likely to keep quiet about it. Back then, kids who were bullied and their parents were probably less likely to go to the media about it.

It is a sad fact that bullying has always been around and sometimes youngsters who feel as though they have nowhere or no one to turn to strike back with violence of their own. I am a part of that Millennial generation that got to experience both kinds of bullying. In middle school, I got to see nasty notes left in lockers, hang-up phone calls and playground bullying, as well as taunting messages left on Myspace and cruel emails.

Though some say it has made bullying worse technology has also made it easier to prove bullying occurred. Before modern technology it was your word against the bully’s, but with cell phone cameras, bus cameras and surveillance cameras all over it is much more likely the behavior will be caught on film.

It doesn’t matter if it happened face-to-face or online, comments still hurt no matter where they are coming from. The anonymity of the Internet just makes you wonder if those mean comments are coming from the typical bullies or your supposed best friend.

Perhaps the technology has evolved, but bullying still remains very much the same as it always has. It still hurts just as much and its scars are usually invisible. The thing is, technology can be used for good as well.

I still have kind words from friends and family I’ve saved in the recesses of my email and Facebook inboxes because they still brighten my day. You never known when that one nice message on Facebook or Twitter might mean the world to someone, which is why we should try to send as many as we can.

Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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