When we think about cyberbullying, we’re often prone to thinking about catty teenage girls. Every so often, there’s a national news headline about a teenager (often a girl), who commits suicide because she was bullied online by her peers. These cases happen more often than just the ones that create a national stir, and it’s always disheartening to think that a child felt that there was no alternative but death because of people online. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, and in the past few days on my personal social media accounts, there has been some pretty aggressive bullying, so here goes nothing.
I started thinking about this in late January when an app called Yik Yak was brought to our attention at work. Yik Yak is kind of like an anonymous twitter. People can post anything in text (there isn’t a photo option) anonymously, and based on your location, you can see what people around you are posting. You can then up-vote or down-vote a post and comment back to the original poster (OP). The OP can choose to set his or her location by dropping a pin or can opt not to have have their specific location noted. As you can imagine, this can and has become a field day on college campuses and in schools everywhere. The first day my peers and I found out about and downloaded it, there was a post with a girl’s full name and phone number, saying that she puts out on the first date. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I don’t care if her left knee and right knee never touch each other, it is not someone else’s place to put her information out there like that.
To say that that post was the tip of the iceberg on our campus would be a gross understatement. On numerous occasions during the next 9 weeks of the semester, Student Conduct, Housing and Residence Life, the Dean of Students Office, and a multitude of other campus entities were drawn into situations because of Yik Yak. One night, a student severely injured himself on a glass fire extinguisher case, and students on the app began posting “RIP” about him. Now, the app does have a “Report Yak” option, but a post needs to be reported so many times before it can be taken down. My peers and I, while handling the situation, also sat on Yik Yak reporting posts all night to try to stop the rumor mill.
In the same vain as Yik Yak, there are other apps like Whisper and Gaggle. Gaggle is a lot like Yik Yak but with a picture sharing option. As you can imagine, all those “nudies” that people thought would never get shared were all over the place. Whisper is another anonymous sharing app with a private message function, and though it’s not as popular on college campuses, it’s used a lot nationwide. In all of these settings, the bullying is just out of control. Someone posts about coming out the their family and getting kicked out and people are like, “Good for your parents, you sinner.” Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know that on an anonymous app I was going to get a lesson from Leviticus.
All of the above word-vomit leads to my tipping point with the bullying as I’ve seen it on my personal social media in the past few days. I’ve posted before about people talking about how my hometown is going to shit because of all the drugs and stuff. I don’t know that it’s really any worse than any other small town across America, but I don’t have stats to prove or disprove that. Anyway, in the past few days, a small handful of people on my newsfeed (most of whom have since been deleted) have posted multiple mug shots of a girl we went to high school with who has been repeatedly arrested in the past few weeks for stealing things to fuel her heroin habit.
Now I’m not buddy buddy with this girl. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen her since middle school. I don’t have some vested interest in protecting her reputation. I have also not had interactions with her where’s she stolen from me or anything of that nature. I just think people are being disgustingly petty by repeatedly posting her mugshots. Has she gotten herself into this situation? Yes, but addiction is a raucous bitch. Is the information public knowledge anyway? Yep. I’ll admit that the only part of the newspaper I check when I’m home is the police beat. But why, then, if it’s public information, does it need to be displayed all over social media? While we all know she’s an addict, she still has feelings and can still feel embarrassment, which I’m sure she feels when she sees these things. Is it “raising awareness” to post her “then and now” photos with rude hashtags? The only awareness it’s raising for me is that people are awful. She has a child and a family, and no one asks for their children/friends/family to go down that path.
As I’m reading through posts today either of the aforementioned nature or people expressing their disgust with those who are doing the bullying, there’s a slew of people who are commenting back about all of this being fair because she’s a “welfare rat” anyway and their “tax dollars pay for her 3 hots and cot.” To that I say shut.your.mouth. The prison system in this country is not solely funded by your tax dollars–in fact, many prisons are becoming privately owned–so soon enough, she’ll be in a private facility. Regardless of your tax dollars (which, trust me, if they weren’t going to a jail or prison would be going somewhere else), that is someone’s child and mother. Most of us will be or already are parents. How would you feel if the child you raised made some bad decisions and people–family and otherwise–decided to throw it all over social media? You’d be mortified and furious all at the same time.
At work, it is my job to be an empowered bystander and step in when people are being treated badly. I don’t usually step in on social media because people become Keyboard Bad Asses and will just incessantly defend their own stupidity, but between seeing this happen at work to no end and now in the personal lives of others, it’s just too much. Everyone feels awful when a teenager sees no way out of bullying other than suicide, but if it’s someone who we know who we’ve deemed “deserves it,” it’s a free for all. Grow up. You are doing nothing but bullying someone who is already in a bad state of affairs. What example are you setting for your children? And how would you feel if your child’s mugshot was being posted left, right, and center by his or her former friends? The adults in this situation are worse than any children I’ve ever seen.