Solutionless Cyber Bullying

Beep! Beep! Beeeeeep! It was 7 am on a school day; my alarm was going off but I couldn’t get out of bed. It wasn’t that I was tired or sick, but I felt this knot in my stomach as anxiety swept over me. I couldn’t go into school today. Not after the mass amount of comments I had received on my Formspring last night, and for the past three months. I had reached my limit. My breaking point.

In middle school I was addicted to social media. I was always posting something on Facebook trying to get attention, or validation. While I did get both attention and some positive validation, the attention was a kind I thought I would have never received. I opened myself up to be a prime target for cyber bullying. Social media has a lot of positive attributes, yet cyber bullying is a dominating downfall that impacts people (mainly teens) worldwide. With its undefinable nature, anonymity, and lack of a solution cyber bullying is particularly detrimental to social media users.

Formspring was like the askfm.com of the early 2010’s. People could send you anonymous or un-anonymous (though people often took advantage of the anonymous feature) questions and comments, and they were generally pretty hurtful in nature. Some people wrote compliments, but those were few and far between. Every few days I would post my Formspring link onto my Facebook page, and receive an influx of messages generally picking apart my appearance, or stating how much people hate me.

Because I had only posted the link to my Facebook I knew that the people saying these things had to have been Facebook friends. People I knew in real life, that I saw everyday, and went to school with. But I could only do so much detective work. It wasn’t like I could identify who the person was and just avoid them. For all I know they could have been my best friend, and that’s what’s so scary about it. I never really figured out why I continued to post the link. While it may not have been the ideal form of interaction it was something. People cared enough to talk about me.

Unlike regular bullying Cyber bullying is much harder to identify, and thus find a solution to. If someone is harassing you in school you tell a teacher and the issue is generally taken care of. But with cyber bullying comes a much longer, not 100% effective process. There is an option you can click on to report a post, but as said by Carbonella in an article from the Atlantic about cyberbullying, “It [reporting] felt like putting a note in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean. There was no way to know if anyone was out there on the other end.” (Bazelon). And it isn’t just a matter of not knowing who is out there to receive the bullying report. It’s the fact that the so called “Cyber Police”, people who receive these bullying reports, may choose not to acknowledge them. What may seem like bullying to a sensitive teenager may not be looked at by an adult as being a big deal. For instance someone telling an insecure 13 year old girl that they are ugly can be really hurtful and seen as bullying to them. While the Cyber Police who are older and think more rationally may also view this as hurtful, but not necessarily as bullying. Bullying is perceived differently by different people of different age groups.

According to Merriam Webster the definition cyber bullying is, “the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.” And while the previous example of calling someone ugly can really mess with someones’ psyche it doesn’t fall into the category of intimidating or threatening. It’s just mean, and that’s where it gets hard to determine what is and what isn’t cyber bullying. However, these actions do fall into the definition of bullying face-to-face. Bullying in the real world is defined as, “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying has a much more solid definition than cyberbullying. Because it happens in an open space anti-bullying laws created by each state are better equipped to handle this activity, as opposed to the actions done online that can come from any state.

Another thing about online bullying reports that gets difficult is that so many other people are reporting as well. In an interview with the Atlantic, Emily Bazelon stated that during her time spent with the company Facebook there were “a couple million bullying reports a week.” And no matter how many people there are responding to these reports there is no way that all of these issues can be attended to. And even if your issue is attended to, it’s going to take a while to get resolved and that just allows for more bullying to occur in the time between.

My experience with cyber bullying on Formspring is a little different than that of Facebook. Instead of people openly posting about me on their walls, I had the choice to publish the comments I got in my inbox. I didn’t have to respond to them and sometimes I didn’t, but that didn’t seem to help the situation any. I remember logging onto my account one day to two messages. One read, “You were such a great Belle. You’re so talented!”, and the other message said, “You’re an ugly stuck up bitch. Noneeee likes you. Kill yourself! Byeeeee [:”. And I figured, I don’t need this negativity in my life. I’ll respond to the nice post and delete the other one. Problem solved, right? Nope. Within minutes of responding to the nice post I got bombarded with messages about not addressing the mean one. “Oh so you only respond to nice things? You’re disgusting and pathetic.”

I couldn’t handle it. Message after message I would just hit the block button, but since the post were anonymous it didn’t matter. The person could just log out of their Formspring account and attack me that way. Formspring is kind of like twitter in a sense where it’s open to the public. You don’t need an account to interact. Which made reporting these posts useless. It was impossible for the Cyber Police of Formspring to track down the person that was saying these things and shut down their account. Who even knows if they had one to begin with.

It became such a solution-less issue that my mom took it into her own hands and deactivate my account. It was the only way to end my problem. It’s not like people were overtly mean to me in school. No one was threatening me. I should have been able to go to school that day, but I just couldn’t. Technically, what I was experiencing wasn’t even cyberbullying. (According to the definition). Regardless it made me feel awful inside. I never found a real solution to this issue. I don’t think there is one. People can be cruel on the internet and take advantage of keyboards, anonymity, and gray-definitioned concepts and take them as far as they can, thus making cyberbullying incredibly harmful.

Bazelon, Emily. “How to Stop the Bullies.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/how-to-stop-bullies/309217/3/>.

Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cyberbullying>.

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