The cyberbullies themselves resist easy categorization: the anonymity of the Internet gives cover not only to schoolyard-bully types but to victims themselves, who feel they can retaliate without getting caught.
As someone who had an e-mail account during the 1990s, and remembers modem connection speeds well-below the once unimaginable threshold of 28.8 kbps, I like to think of myself as rather experienced with the Internet.
I’ve been on both the giving and receiving ends of some rather sharp ripostes on message boards and had to delete more than one offensive comment on my personal website. The anonymous nature of the medium provides a safe vantage from which one can type the things they’d never dare to utter to a person’s face.
But I’ve never had anyone try to “cyber-bully” me… until recently.
An individual contacted me through Facebook a few days ago, at first making over-effusive compliments in a fawning and cloying effort to gain my attention, before suddenly switching tactics in what appeared to be an obscene and inarticulate effort to insult me.
My initial reaction was to laugh at such a facile and clumsy attempt. I showed it to my wife and a few old friends, who shared a winsome sigh at its oafish effort.
From this we all reminisced about the trollish behaviors of a nation of gawky 13-year-olds who discovered anonymous bluster, “chat room” flame wars and the “courage” of the coward to vitriol beneath a cloak of anonymity.
After this I employed the services of a friend of mine in law enforcement who, utilizing his superior technological acumen, provided me with the real name of my incompetent antagonist. A relative of a criminal suspect I had covered in this paper, in a futile effort to exact some manner of vengeance, I suppose.
While I dismissed this as the spite of a wastrel youth, I considered the fact that this person is yet a student at a local high school and perhaps had directed such enmity toward his peers.
Talk to someone in education or law enforcement and they will tell you how serious this problem is becoming in our culture, especially among youth.
No longer are students simply tormenting each other in the hallways and hidden corners of the schoolhouse, they’re taking it online.
Sometimes they do so brazenly, without care or concern for the consequences, and sometimes they resort to more surreptitious means.
I read a report about a group of students who created a fake online persona of a boy in their class, for the express purpose of humiliating him online and, by extension, in real life.
But when the mother of the child complained to local school officials, who brought the matter before the police, the mother was accused of taking a “harmless prank” too far.
One youth’s father even told the mother that “boys will be boys” and that she should simply let the boy fend for himself, lest he grow up too coddled to care for himself.
As a parent of four children, this is an issue I take very seriously, and I would admonish other parents to do so as well. There’s a fundamental difference between a light jest between friends and an outright assault upon a person’s character.
While I would hope “the adults” already know this, I am too often proved to be wrong. In fact, too often it is the parents themselves who are complicit.
Over the weekend I was e-mailed a link to a local message board, begging me to do a report on the gossip and lies being spread online about members of their family.
In response I could only advise this person to bring the matter before law enforcement professionals, after which I could possibly cover the case and outcome.
Their response cut me to the quick: “But by then the damage will be done.”
For all of the technological advances of our modern age, we’ve made very little progress in how we conduct ourselves as a people and how we treat others.