LAURA GALLIGAN STAFF WRITER
WILLIAM MUOIO ONLINE EDITOR
*Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of students who wished to remain anonymous. Subject in photo is not featured in the article.
Ask Ava* (’16) about cyberbullying, and she will say it’s worse than traditioal bullying. When she comes home after school, she talks to older guys who make her feel well-liked. “I talk to them because it makes me feel like they care about me,” she said.
Since she has only been in the High School for a little over a year, it’s been difficult for her to become friends with older students, but she says a few older boys have been talking to her. After completing her homework, Ava stays in bed, checking her ask.fm page, a social network on which users answer questions posted by other users, and texting her friends. Sometimes a mean comment has been posted anonymously on her page. Ava was usually able to brush these things off, but this time was different.
A boy who Ava had sent a topless photo to had posted a comment on her ask.fm page; the same boy had told Ava that he liked her right before the school year begun this year. The comment confronted Ava for sending the topless pictures and threatened to share the photograph with a group of ASL students. It prompted Ava to delete her ask.fm account and hide away from social media for a few days. “It was essentially blackmail. I couldn’t keep my account because I didn’t want to be reminded of what happened,” she said. “The consequences were too severe for anyone to see the post.”
Ava believes that ask.fm and Snapchat, an app where users can send pictures to other users for a maximum of 10 seconds, are platforms for the cyberbullying that occurs within the ASL community. “With ask.fm, people ask hurtful things. Sometimes they aren’t necessarily from ASL students, but there have been a few [such as the one from the boy] which have affected me,” she said.
As with anything online, it is very difficult to determine the tone in which a comment is posted. “It is very hard to determine if a comment is genuine,” she said. “Some comments have been nice regarding my looks or my friends, and those comments make me feel good about myself…but then again, those comments may not be genuine. I have no idea.”
Snapchat, on the other hand, is more crude. “With Snapchat, most of the actions are sexual. Guys try and take advantage of me and sometimes it works.”
While Ava is able to see if they’ve been screenshotted, she says that boys have come up with other ways to save the images. It has happened at least once to Ava, as her friends have told her that the aforementioned boy has the topless photos that Ava snapchatted him on his phone. “One common example is that boys will use another device and take a picture of their phone. I will not get a notification that the image has been saved, so I have no idea if they have it or not. I can only assume,” she said.
A few years ago, Celia Mitchell (’15) was cyberbullied through constant and cruel text messages. Another girl repeatedly sent her hurtful text messages, videos, and nasty song lyrics. “What happened to me is that I was bombarded by texts over the course of a couple of weeks that attacked me in every way possible to make me feel awful about myself, and made it seem like it wasn’t just this one person hiding behind their phone thinking these things but the whole world,” she said.
Health Teacher Joy Marchese has told her students that in 2007, 43 percent of kids between the ages of 13 and 17 had been cyberbullied, but believes that statistic has risen. “I know kids get sick of talking about it but I think it’s getting worse,” she said.
When Marchese hears about a cyberbullying incident, she immediately reports it to Dean of Students Joe Chodl.
He said that there has not been a case of cyberbullying reported to the SFDB since the 2011-2012 school year, but acknowledged, “there is probably more misconduct than what reaches my desk.”
Mitchell agrees with Chodl. She confided in her older sister, but did not talk to a teacher. “I was lucky enough to have that support system,” she said.
Lily* (’14) was cyberbullied at a former school as a freshman over both Facebook and Twitter, and also wishes she had told someone about it. “My freshman year I was depressed. Pretty much what happened was I got in a fight with my friend and she decided to post a bunch of my deepest darkest secrets and tag me in them [on Facebook],” she said.
Lily’s Facebook incident was hard for her to handle mentally, but things only got worse “The worst time was over Twitter. I had a bunch of people ganging up on me pretty much threatening to beat me up,” she said. “At first I was apathetic about it, but once I started seeing the people at school, that’s when the fear set in. I thought, ‘Oh they might actually beat the crap out of me.’ They knocked on my door and pretty much pulled me outside and shoved me down, and left.”
Lily bottled up her emotions, and did not tell anyone about it. “I stupidly didn’t tell anyone about it. I just kept it to myself.” she said. “I do wish I told someone because I feel like it would have prevented the problem from happening in the first place. I would have told my counselor at my school and gotten her involved. It was an issue outside of school, but it became an issue in school.”
Lily doesn’t believe that seeing a teacher about a cyberbullying issue would necessarily help nullify the problem, although she admits seeing Chodl could make a difference. “I don’t think going to a teacher would be helpful but maybe going to Dr. Chodl would be helpful. That should clear up the problem real quick. He is more the figure of authority versus a teacher,” she said.
Mitchell thinks that no matter how hard it is for one to try to tell someone, one should always try. “The only positive side of cyber bullying is that, if it is happening to you, you have physical proof of everything said and done to you. That’s why you should always come forward and get help. The bully can hide behind the screen, but you don’t have to,” she said.
The Code of Conduct does not offer a concrete definition for cyberbullying, but defines bullying as: “Any type of intentional verbal or physical abuse directed towards another student. Bullying may occur in person, online, or on the phone and may include verbal bullying, threatening behavior, social exclusion, physical bullying, vandalism, extortion or theft.”
SFDB Co-President Omar Elmasry (’14) believes that whether it’s online or in person, bullying is bullying and it must be addressed. He said that the SFDB would intervene in “a situation where a student posts something about another student on facebook and the repercussions enter school.”
His co-president, Elias Vere Nicoll (’14), agreed and said that cyberbullying could become an increasingly prevalent issue because of the newly implemented 1:1 laptop program. “It might be something we want to speak about more in grade meetings,” he said.
But because the SFDB has not had a recent case, Chodl said, “I think we are very proactive about informing students about the consequences of these things,” he said. “I do not think that it’s a problem.”
Ava, unlike Lily, has told a few of her close friends about how boys treat her. “I feel comfortable talking to a few friends about it, or an adult who knows a lot about me. I would never tell my parents. They’re too judgemental,” she said.
High School Counselor Stephanie Oliver has talked to cyberbullying victims in the past. She does not believe it is feasible to prevent cyberbullying, but she thinks ASL could work towards creating a culture of nonviolence. “With regular bullying I feel like there has to be a power differential, but with cyberbullying it doesn’t really have to do with power imbalance. It doesn’t have to be a long standing pattern,” she said. “It’s permanent. You can’t necessarily get rid of it and it follows you around.”
Oliver believes that anytime there is an online community, issues of cyberbullying will arise. “Any joking around at someone else’s expense needs to be reflected upon,” Oliver said. “You need to ask yourself, is this something I am doing to make myself feel better or put someone down? It especially needs to be addressed on the Internet because there is no facial expression. There is too much room for interpretation.”
Similarly, Marchese said, “I think there is a lot of grey area. The only way to know if you have crossed that line [between joking and cyberbullying] is to ask the person. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online. I think that certainly there are people who are victims of cyberbullying consistently. I don’t think it’s worse here than anywhere else; I think it’s a societal problem.”
Mitchell said that it is hard to see someone in person who has said hurtful things to you over the internet or through a phone. “It’s often odd to see the person. You’ve read the mean things that they’ve written but have never actually heard anything like that come out of their mouth. Do they not realize the effect they have, or are they cowardly?” she said. “Cyberbullying doesn’t allow for the bullies to see the impact they make, which means they feel more empowered and able to continue bullying through technology.”