Saturday, 15 December 2007

When the Bullies Turned Faceless

New York Times

"LIKE most mobs, the one that pursued Megan Meier was cruel and unrelenting. Its members gathered on the social networking site MySpace and called Megan a liar, a fat whore and worse.

Megan, 13, fought back, insulting her tormenters with every profanity she knew. But the mob shouted her down, overwhelming her computer and her shaky self-confidence with a barrage of hateful instant messages.

“Mom, they’re being horrible!” Megan said, sobbing into the phone when her mother called. After an hour, Megan ran into her bedroom and hanged herself with a belt.

“She felt there was no way out,” Ms. Meier said."

Megan Meier’s suicide made headlines because she was the victim of a hoax. Lori Drew, another mother in the neighborhood, said in a police report that she had created a MySpace profile of a boy, an invention named “Josh Evans,” and that she and her daughter had manipulated Megan into thinking that this fabricated person liked her.

Then, after a few weeks, Ms. Meier said, girls posing as Josh wrote MySpace messages telling Megan that he hated her. He insulted her, and other girls — most unaware that Josh did not exist — viciously piled on. (Later, through her lawyer, Ms. Drew, 48, denied knowing about the hoax.)

In some ways, the hoax was a tragic oddity. Most mothers don’t pull vicious pranks, and few harassed adolescents become depressed and commit suicide. But Megan’s story is also a case study about cyberbullying."

Now, I know that there has always been bullying for as long as young people have socialised and congregated in groups. Most schools, in most countries of the world, will be doing their best to combat bullying, but they will never eliminate it. At least, though, the traditional methods of bullying in the playground and in communal areas of schools was easier to confront; the bullies had faces and could be identified. Mobile phones and text messaging, web sites like MySpace, allow the new breed of bully to remain faceless, to hide behind an anonymous ID. They also allow more people to join in at the speed of cyber-communication.

"And unlike traditional bullying, which usually is an intimate, if highly unpleasant, experience, high-tech bullying can happen anywhere, anytime, among lots of different children who may never actually meet in person. It is inescapable and often anonymous, said sociologists and educators who have studied cyberbullying."

It used to be that a child who was being bullied at school could enjoy some respite in their own home. Not so now. Children have mobile phones and so many have a computer in the bedroom. Mobile phones and the internet allow the bully a way into the sanctuary of our homes and very often parents have no idea that it is happening or have any means of combatting it or of confronting the bullies. Do you take away your child's mobile phone and computer and then render them more isolated and out of touch and maybe more vulnerable than they are already, sitting alone in their bedroom, trying to deal with an anonymous barrage from people who can be brave because they are faceless?

And, as in the Megan Meier case, the victim of cyberbullying is often isolated, yet never free from attack. “The target sees this entire cyberuniverse where everybody is against them, and no one will come to their defense,” said Dr. Walter Roberts, professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “The harassment is not limited to the portion of the day when the kids are in school. The targeted kids have no escape.”

The internet is a wonderful invention. It allows instant communication around the globe. When my son was on a gap year, travelling round the world, he found cyber-cafes even on small islands off the coast of Thailand from where he could tell his professional worrier of a mother that he had been swimming with a harmless species of shark! Mobile phones have opened up a new world of communication for deaf children via text messaging and have also probably saved many lives when someone has met with an accident in a remote place. However, they have also rendered our children vulnerable to this new virile form of bullying, and of course, as some parents have discovered, the internet also opens up a world where our children are vulnerable to the most nasty aspect of all, online grooming for sex.

I bid you adieu for now, dear readers. Christmas shopping to do. Thanks to the wonderful internet, I have ordered a load of lovely clothes for my beautiful grandson and a Tokyo Flash JLr7 watch for my son, but Wellesbourne market is calling and I'm off to snap up some bargains!

On this cold December day, may all our children be safe.


Gill said...

Cyber bullies seem to think they can hide from the truth.
By deleting their messages the only thing they achieve is to confirm their guilt

Isabelle said...

Hi Anna,

Bullies are often bullied themselves in which case i don't understand why they bully other children/people as they know how much it hurts by experience!!

We as adults can ignore it and whoever is bullying will go away eventual to find his/her next victim.
Children on the otherhand often fight back in the hope it will stop, but mostly it doesn't..its more the begining as the bully gets what he/she wants.

Bullies are cowards and often hiding behind a Anonymous comments and on the streets behind (school)friends as on there own they are not so brave!!!

Everyone who bullies, whether children or adults are very spitful cowardly people as they know what they are doing!!!

I wonder how they can still sleep at night??

Warm Wishes Anna


Anna Silvestro said...


We have seen from my post of messages, which were subsequently deleted from a Bebo site, that cyber-bullies will delete their abuse if they think they are about to be in trouble. We know who posted the abusive threats on Bebo and we know that the person is still making threats under various pseudonyms. If we know, then the police probably know too.

Isabelle, I agree about bullies being cowardly. They hunt in packs and pick out those they see as vulnerable. Unfortunately, the only thing that scares a bully is someone bigger and more powerful than they are.

I am sure that many of the bullies in the pack have been bullied themselves. Seems to me that by joining with others to intimidate, it's partly a matter of being nice to the crocodile in the hopes that it eats you last.

Isabelle said...

Totally agree with you Gill...

A bully is a sad excuse for a human being!!

Isabelle said...

Sorry Anna it was your

I agree with you too!!!

Anna Silvestro said...

Thanks Isabelle. Schools in the UK were supposed to have had a strategy in place by September of a few years ago to combat bullying. With or without a strategy, mobile phones in schools make it much harder. Kids don't need to be face-to-face to organise anymore and although mobile phones are officially not allowed in classrooms, most kids have them in their pockets or bags, on silent mode.

We have a new breed of bully with his/her mobile phone and computer. So, the bully can be in touch with his cronies wherever he is and the bullied can be targeted wherever he is. A total ban on mobile phones in schools might help but that would be difficult to enforce. Technology that blocked mobiles in school buildings might be a good idea, but I'm sure that school staff might complain. Well, we managed quite well before mobiles and since most classrooms now have phones linked to the switchboard, no need for teachers to use mobile phones either.

Computers are misused a great deal in schools. I spend a great deal of time saying, "Close down that game site/Bebo site/MSN Messenger."

Isabelle said...

Hi Anna,

It almost looks like there is not much schools can do..but i do hope that teachers, parents and all other people who are aware that children get bullied help them to stand up against the bullies....I hope people will keep there eyes and ears open and help schools combat bullying!!

I do agree with you Anna, first thing to combat bullying is to close down Bebo and all other messenger sites in the schools!!!

Kindest Regards

Isabelle said...

Hi Anna,

Cyber bullying is not only something that kids do...i witness a terrible form of cyber bullying over some months now, I have saved some of it on my hard drive as prove and Anna i can say its not something you can put aside...the website is no longer available!

I did report to Thames Valley police! As i promis i would do if the attacks on the Osborn's would continue.

I hope Gill is ok..Bob and Jack as well.

I have no words for this yet again vile attack on Gill..other than i am utterly disgusted with this person!

Anna Silvestro said...


I have saved screenshots from a couple of web sites which show serious cyber-bullying and obnoxious defamation. I too am utterly disgusted and there are no words to describe such vile attacks, that I would put in print anyway, since I will not sink to the level of the kind of person who posts messages full of vulgar language on Bebo.

Isabelle said...

Maybe we have to draw up a petiton against cyber bullying..Its has to stop!!
So many lives has been racked by it and so many children have committed suicide over it!

Warm Wishes to you Anna,

Anna Silvestro said...

Hi Isabelle,

I think we need to do something. Perhaps some kind of legislation relating to cyber-bullying with fairly serious consequences and then some kind of organisation set up to investigate complaints and refer to the police. A serious problem needs serious measures to deal with it.

And warm wishes to you on this cold day.


Isabelle said...

I second that Anna!!

Warm wishes back to you on a less cold day today.

Anna Silvestro said...

Hi Isabelle,

The weather is not so cold here today either, which is good for shopping at an open-air market....where I have been today.

A very happy weekend before Christmas to you....and to our very hard-working Gill!