The History of Cyberbullying
Traditional bullying forced its way onto the web in the 1990s with the advent of affordable, personal computers. Whether in public chat rooms or private messaging platforms, classmates and ever strangers have subjected children and teens to cyberbullying. The web’s anonymity provided the perfect cover for a user to harass or intimidate others without much repercussion. While several US states have enacted laws in recent years to regulate teen cyberbullying, the wider-reaching effects can be harmful and are something we should be more aware of and take proactive measures against.
Cyberbullying On The Books
In response to the 1999 Columbine school shooting, states began to pass anti-bullying laws. Some of these laws included cyberbullying as an offense, but many did not. Cyberbullying was brought to the mainstream after online harassment resulted in multiple teen suicides. One of the earliest cases occurred in 2007, when 13-year-old Tina Meier committed suicide after neighbors created a fake Myspace profile under the name “Josh Evans” to harass her. A federal grand jury found the perpetrators guilty of conspiracy and unauthorized computer use, but they were later acquitted. Meier’s case caused her home state of Missouri to pass a harassment law encompassing acts of cyberbullying.
The Internet Gets Mobile
Cyberbullying hit its stride in the mid-2000s when smartphones became the newest must-have item. Teens could share text messages and photos to anyone in their phones. An 18-year-old named Jessica Logan killed herself after her boyfriend sent nude photos of her to teenagers in at least seven Ohio high schools. Logan was cyberbullied through Myspace and text messages. A year later, in a nearly identical case, a 13-year-old named Hope Sitwell killed herself after her boyfriend shared a nude photo of her across six high schools in Florida. Both deaths resulted in lawsuits against the schools and new state cyberbullying laws.
Lately, cyberbullying occurs across numerous social media platforms and apps. A ten-second Snapchat post can go viral on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in a matter of hours. Anyone in the world can view and comment on videos posted to Youtube. The sheer visibility of posts makes victims the target of sometimes millions of people. In 2010 a Rutgers University student named Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate live-streamed a video of Clementi kissing another man on Twitter. A federal cyberbullying law passed in 2012 bears his name.
That same year in Canada a teenager named Amanda Todd killed herself a month after posting a video entitled “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self-harm” to Youtube. Todd’s video, viewed more than 17 million times, told of how a stranger convinced her to show her breasts on camera and blackmailed her with the photos. The stranger posted the picture on social media and used it as profile pictures of fake accounts he used to friend Todd. A week after her death Canada began writing legislation for national anti-bullying legislation.
What You Can Do
These cases illustrate how the evolution of technology has provided bullies with greater reach. It’s imperative for family members and friends to recognize signs of cyberbullying or self-harm and give much-needed support to victims. The first step parents can take is to have an open and honest line of communication with your children. The technology conversation is ongoing and constantly evolving. Second, use available tools to know more about your child’s cyber lives. There’s no need to be a mobile spy. But when you need to know the important details like if your child is sexting or being cyberbullied, monitoring tools like Bark can provide you just the right amount of information in time to step in and take action.