Cyberbullies

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that this world in which I now live is neither the world into which I was born, nor that in which I grew up, but rather it is a strange alien place, I am a stranger in a strange land.

Springtiger: WTF R KIDZ UP 2?

 
I’ve always felt alienated and terrified by teenagers and their self-governing village/gossip/tribe-like social regimes in schools and where ever else they roam on a daily basis. Being one myself was a particularly traumatic experience, and I am thankful that it is a time long gone.

The movie ‘Cyberbully’ reminds me just how long gone that is. Today’s teenagers grow up in a world so pervasively integrated with technology that their ‘school yard’ is everywhere, anywhere, anytime. Thanks to social media, young people live on a social scene that is just like the Australian bush in hot summer … it takes only a small spark to set their whole world ablaze!

That is what happens to Taylor in the movie below.

 

(Cyberbully – The full movie)

 
Bullying and ostracism in the Pre-Internet era

When I was a teenager bullying was much simpler.

Except for a few sporadic (scary) episodes, I haven’t been bullied during my school time. I have been teased, and felt there was a bit of an attitude towards me in my class expressed in *sighs*, eye rolling, ignoring, implicit comments and a dragging pronunciation of my name when I asked questions in class … But there was no evil witch hunt, no severe crossing boundaries, more like a nagging role I could not get out of.

I was a relative new comer in my class, having started in year 4 while most of my classmates had known each other since kinder garden. Two of my classmates had welcomed me into their little clique from the start, and they were my friends and the only ones I could relate to all the way through my school years there. I had no social mobility… When I wasn’t in the good books with my 2 friends then I was miserable, because I had no where else to go. But under normal circumstances I was fine.

A girl in my class was not so lucky, I’ll call her Sybil. Sybil had been the outcast of the class since kindergarden because she was:

‘boring, she has boring hair and clothes, and the way she talks and eats with her braces on is disgusting’

Source: one of my 2 school friends

Sybil was like a ghost no one noticed or considered a real person. My friends hated her with a passion, maybe because she was just a bit further down in the social hierarchy than us. No one thought anything of talking trash about Sybil, that was just natural. It was considered to be somehow her own fault.

 
The Club That Hates Sybil

I recall a meeting my friends and I had on the balcony of my home, complete with notebooks and markers, planning our newest project: a dog club.

We were 5 kids around 11-12 years old*: myself, my 2 school friends, my best friend (who was outside of my school), and a third school friend who belonged in our little group albeit she was most often absent.

So: we were brainstorming club rules and activities and a name for the club. The winning name was ‘The Dog Club’. However, ‘The Club That Hates Sybil’ was a close contestant and temporary working draft name until ‘The Dog Club’ was finally decided. ‘The Club That Hates Sybil’ was ditched eventually because it was a slightly irrelevant name for a dog club after all, and too school-related (my best friend didn’t know Sybil). It wasn’t a moral question.

In hindsight, Sybil sure knew there was an attitude against her – after all no one talked with her. However, she wouldn’t have heard much of what was actually said about her. No one was ever rude to her face to face. And she probably didn’t hear about ‘The Club That Hates Sybil’.

 
A social butterfly breaks out of the closet

One day in year 7 or 8, Sybil came to school with a new look. Unlike ever before she wore make-up and perfume (a lot!), her long fairy hair was waving in a gently curling bob, she was dressed in totally out-of-character trendy clothes and behaved in a bubbly, smiling and talkative manner. A shocking transformation.

The girls in class instantly became more friendly and interested in her. Hairstyles, make-up and fashion had their fancy and was something they liked to talk about, but they didn’t totally let her in at friends-level.

Sybil then charmed the girls in the parallel class, who had never noticed her before. Within a week she belonged in a clique, had friends and was popular; which enforced her new vibrating and mingling personality. It was like a grey worm had transformed into a colourful social butterfly. It is the most rapid and baffling social turnaround I have ever seen.

Her fairy tale transformation also turned her into friends material for my friends and made my position more vulnerable. I was probably the 2nd lowest girl in the social hierarchy, near the edge between inclusion and exclusion. When Sybil was ‘in’ then I was ‘out’, so it seemed… someone had to be the Omega wolf* of the teenage pack.

purple butterfly - clipart

Unlike in typical fairy tales, the heroine turned out to have a mean strike. Sybil was gossipy and two-faced once she had the social influence to be so; she would be friendly and ingratiating with someone, and then readily trash-talk them behind their back with someone else. I never quite figured her out or trusted her. However, I acknowledge the magnitude of her social transformation and admire her for proving it possible.

 
Cyberbullies: bullying gone pan-epidemic!

How would the story have turned out, had it taken place in the age of the Internet?

In the age of the Internet Sybil would surely have been familiar with ‘The Club That Hates Sybil’ and all the other social poison. All the insults would have been on record, right there on Twitter or Facebook to jump out in her face, visible even to people who never met her. Bullying and ostracism get pan-epidemic properties online; it spreads exponentially across wide distances.

The movie ‘Cyberbully’ suggests that Internet communication removes teenagers from feeling the consequences of their actions when they bully online, so that even kids that aren’t normally school yard bullies may bully online. The kids know that they are being mean of course, but they don’t fully grasp the magnitude of the damages their insults cause once their words snow-ball through the social media landscapes and accumulate comments.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that various studies link cyberbullying to increased suicide rates for the victims.

That doesn’t have to mean that the Internet is a bad for vulnerable teenagers. While Cyberbullying didn’t exist when I was young, all the Internet-enabled opportunities to reach out across boundaries and connect, learn and build virtual relationships didn’t exist either. Ostracism or bullying in school could mean total social isolation and stagnation. The Internet can be an enabler of friendships, belonging, comfort, social development and empowering insights as well as a weapon of psychological destruction.

 
Related stories

 
This post was inspired by the movie ‘Cyberbully’ (YouTube video above) and the post WTF R KIDZ UP 2? by Springtiger AKA Rory Patton.

 
_______________________________________________________________________________________

*Definition of omega wolf:

The Lowest ranking wolf is known as an Omega (Male or Female). The Omega wolf serves an important purpose by absorbing the packs aggression, thereby maintaining balance within the pack.

The Lupus Foundation: Wolf Behaviour

(used here as a metaphor for human behaviour)

**Take With A Grain Of Salt

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6 thoughts on “Cyberbullies

  1. brittany220

    Yeah both online bullying and in-person bullying are brutal. I definitely don’t miss middle school, which was when I saw a lot of behavior like this, even if I only had one experience with it myself. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Sybil growing up with so many people targeting her and trying to take out their insecurities on her, and I’m not surprised that when she finally gained power herself that she gave some of the meanness back. It’s not a good way to go at all, but I’m not surprised. Hopefully with more experience and age she came to realize that what she was doing was no better than what had happened to her and she stopped. But yeah, cyberbullying can be relentless and brutal, and I hope we can figure out some more solutions to these problems so more kids aren’t left feeling terrible about themselves to the point where they would consider suicide.

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    1. Mados

      Yes, I hope so too…

      Re. Sybil, she wasn’t generally being pursued as such, she was mainly being ignored and trash-talked behind her back, but mostly not noticed. So it was ostracism rather than bullying. Within a few years of the time I described in this post, I ended up as the outcast of the class myself… No one was targeting me, they just didn’t have anything to talk with me about and vice versa, and probably thought I was weird. That is somewhat similar to the situation she was in for so many years.

      Bullying was strictly forbidden in my school. I remember being teased, and how my classmate who had nick named me ‘powder witch’ and kept going on with it (pretty annoying) often assured me and himself that it was friendly teasing, not bullying. I hated his nick name and being teased, but I do agree that it was not bullying.

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      1. brittany220

        I think that’s still considered bullying if the teasing was persistent and continued even after you told him to stop. Yeah I can imagine being outcasted is really tough. I’m glad things get better in general as we get older and people mature. Granted there are always people we’re going to run into that try to bring others down, but at least that’s more uncommon than it is in the middle school/high school days.

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        1. Mados

          I think that’s still considered bullying if the teasing was persistent and continued even after you told him to stop.

          I think bullying is defined as targeting a victim with a deliberate intention to hurt, not just being annoying to someone. I have been teased a lot (but only bullied very little), and I think part of the reason was that my reactions were fun. E.g. in the youngest years of school when I was teased, I would loose my temper and run after the person with my head lowered like a bull, but not fast enough to catch up … I don’t know what I would have done, had I been able to catch up, because I was VERY angry. My reactions was obviously why it was fun to tease in the first place (in hindsight). Although I was angry, I tried to ‘play the game’. Maybe due to insecurity – when people where laughing, then I would continue to do what made them laugh whether I really liked it or not.

          I have also been teased for fun in some other situations where it WAS fun and I acted much the same way, so it wasn’t necessarily clear cut (in my case). With the ‘Powder Witch’ guy, I don’t think it was clear to him that I didn’t like it.

          Yeah I can imagine being outcasted is really tough.

          Yes, that is traumatic. I wrote about my experience being an outsider in school in this post in the section ‘Breaks between classes = total limbo’.

          I’m glad things get better in general as we get older and people mature. Granted there are always people we’re going to run into that try to bring others down, but at least that’s more uncommon than it is in the middle school/high school days.

          Me too… I am glad that adults tend to be more sophisticated and less vicious than teenagers, although many workplaces do tend to have bullies, gossip and other school yard characteristics. But overall, I do very much prefer being an adult to being a child, and being older to being younger.

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