Cassie Moore, Reporter
Only the back of her dirty-blonde head is visible, but a young girl clearly hunches over a bulbous computer screen. She brings a silhouetted, horrified finger up to the blank white surface of the device, pointing to the big bold letters that accompany the dim lighting of the photograph: U R A LOSER.
This portrayal of “cyberbullying” is a common one, despite nearly every student and teacher alike knowing of its blatant inaccuracy. Cyberbullying does not occur in the form of an anonymous word document sent to some ambiguous teenage girl in her dark room at midnight; cyberbullying is real, it happens every day and all around us, and it often goes completely overlooked.
Counselor Kyan Kingston says cyber bullying is “where one person continues to bully another student on a consistent basis, [using tactics] that could harm student or cause emotional damage through any medium that is considered cyber”.
To junior Denyel Pivonka, cyber bullying is “anything online that is said or posted to harm mentally another person. It could be anyone”.
Everyone has seen (or at least heard of) the movie Cyberbully with Emily Osment that we all cried over during eighth grade health class. The articles we read and the adults in our lives tell us the drastic effects of such digital onslaught from our peers: depression, self harm, and even suicide. It has been drilled into our heads from day one that cyber bullying is wrong, cyber bullying is bad, cyber bullying is something we should never do. But according to the definitions given by the dictionary, a school counselor, and even a student, a lot of what goes on in a normal internet environment today could be classified as cyber bullying.
“I feel like people get picked on for basically anything now. Whether it be the clothes you wear, what you look like, who you are, somebody’s going to find something to make fun of,” Pivonka said.
Over text, on Twitter, through Group Snapchats, and on secret Instagram accounts, this scenario is all too common. Kids “roast” each other in good humor, and on occasion, in not-so-good humor. Due to its frequent occurrence, a lot of kids do not even realize what’s going on.
“Kids aren’t necessarily [aware enough of cyber bullying]. Simply because they may know something’s not right, but maybe they don’t know what to do or how to make it stop,” Kingston said.
Peers insulting each other has become the norm for many friend groups. The default way to liven up any group chat is to go for the low blow: call someone else in the chat a faggot or bring up the time they let one rip right in the middle of Chemistry. Insulting our friends in a jovial manner is certainly not a new phenomenon, but the effects of its widespread use today certainly are unprecedented. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, in 2014 42 percent of American high school children admitted to being bullied online. In 2016, it was 58 percent. As more and more people encourage the casual and seemingly lighthearted put-down of others for entertainment, it becomes easier and easier to bash others on a more serious level.
“If kids are being mean to each other they say a lot more hurtful things on social media than they would if they didn’t have it. They’re not in person so they think they can say harsher things if they’re not really there,” freshman Matt Perks said.
Without face-to-face contact a person is much more likely to brush a mean comment off as sarcasm or just delete it rather than retaliate or tell someone. Due to the commonality of such occurrences, a lot of kids have buckled down and silently dealt with harsh comments without realizing that what they’re enduring is bullying.
“This is my eighth year as a counselor; there’s been maybe a half a dozen instances where a kid will come in and say this is what’s going on, and ‘what do I do with all these texts?’” Kingston said.
Cyber bullying has been traditionally thought of as interaction between teenagers. However, cyberbullying extends its reach beyond just young people.
Victims of cyber bullying often have parents that are just as affected as their child, because they are charged with the task of seeking help for their psychologically damaged children.
“Even the perpetrator’s parents can be impacted there. You know, ‘how do we [parents] step in and do something about things?’ And obviously administrators, counselors, any school professional is going to encounter this in their career. Coaches, moderators, band instructors, choral directors, it doesn’t matter. It could impact you,” Kingston said.
Adults do not only have to be impacted via their children, however. Many experts consider cyber bullying a form of harassment to all ages, and therefore an evolving area of crime. Detrimental online posts can affect adults just as much as a high schooler. Adults cyber bully each other, but also, kids can cyber bully adults.
“Some things that get said in group chats about teachers could really affect their career. Like there was a rumor that my sixth grade reading teacher worked at Twin Peaks, and she had to talk to parents about it and everything. People can really ruin your reputation as a teacher or a professional by exaggerating situations or saying things that might not have even happened,” Pivonka said.
The Internet is permanent, and even when you delete a post records of it still exist. Anything people say online can potentially affect them or the people they talk about later in life.
“I think [cyberbullying] can affect anybody whether you have social media or not. I think adults, even, if they’re gossiping about each other, can hurt,” Perks said.
Perks is a unique case; he is part of the measly 22 percent of the American population that does not use social media. Although still an avid participator in group chats, he occasionally feels left out, but mostly he considers his lack of connectivity a blessing.
“I think [my life] is easier without social media because I don’t have to be worried about what everybody else thinks about me. I think something people care most about is what people think about them and how they should respond on social media,” Perks said.
Harassing comments sometimes get said just for the sake of complaining. Kids are at their most volatile in situations where they are with their friends, seemingly away from being caught, and consequences for their actions are at a minimum. Talking about people behind their backs is one of the lesser evils that happens within friend groups online. And it happens often.
“Group chats can be a very dangerous thing with people our age. So many things get said; so many secrets get spilled. If you’re just going to bash teachers, that’s not really something that should be said in a group chat. Keep those kind of opinions to yourself. They’re not going to be in your life anyway, it’s high school, you’re here for a couple years and you’re out,” Pivonka said.
Despite the level of devastation cyberbullying can cause, it is possible to fight it. Different kinds of cyberbullying call for different types of solutions. Small taunts from peers happen often and probably don’t render many tears, but as soon as those comments start to make someone feel bad about themselves, it’s bullying. It is difficult enough to muster up the effort to walk into the counselor’s office to turn in your AP registration form, so why would any student do so because of some repeated comments people make to them on the Internet?
“Anytime I see something that upsets me or other people see something that upsets them, I just remember it’s the Internet. If you don’t like something someone says just block them. Just unfollow them, don’t look at it, get them off their feed,” Pivonka said.
For more serious issues, Kingston advises to ask for help. The only way administrators can know about cyberbullying is if the student brings the issue to them. Not everything can be done alone, and getting through bullying is one of them. One of the major problems schools today face is how to get students to actually come in and receive that help.
“You can’t end cyberbullying by watching a movie in Health. It’s not realistic,” Pivonka said.
What is comes down to is the Internet, the Internet user, and the Internet abuser. The elaborate scenarios people immediately think of when they think “cyberbullying” may not always be the case, but the act is certainly still an epidemic. The cure is constantly evolving, with no clear end in sight. The only real way to stop all forms of bullying starts with a single person willing to take a stand.
“There’s always a way out, there’s always a better alternative, always a solution,” Kingston said. “You can advocate for yourself, you can advocate for your peers who are struggling, yes there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are better days ahead.”