Cyberbullying redefines harassment: Letter to the Editor

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Olivia Dell'Olio, Staff Writer

Every October (the official Cyberbullying Awareness month), schools across the country illicit the help of public speakers and educational videos to alert their students of what cyberbullying is, attempting to make a substantial dent in the alarmingly high numbers of recorded cyberbullying incidents.  And although being squeezed into a crowded auditorium, surrounded by people looking for any means of entertainment in the wake of a drab backwash of technical terms and forms of punishment being recited by a less-than excited speaker may dull the actual meaning behind the words, cyberbullying still remains a huge threat.  

The Merriam-Webster definition of cyberbullying is as follows: the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously.  It doesn’t take much to imagine the ‘average’ cyberbully, a kid with too much time on their hands and something to prove to the world.  However, more often than not, a cyberbully may not even be aware of the damage they cause.

For example, in early October of 2015, a college student’s ‘before and after makeup” pictures went viral on Twitter, with the caption, “I don’t understand how people can do this and I can’t figure out how to conceal a single pimple on my face.” Ashley Van Pevenage, the face of the viral internet meme, had a friend who originally posted the pictures (with Van Pevenage’s consent) with the seemingly innocent comment.  Eventually, however, the pictures snowballed into the spotlight, earning comments like, “Maybe if she didn’t wear so much makeup and actually got some sun on her face and let her skin breathe she wouldn’t have such a bad acne problem,” and even “I’ll spend some time with her, as long as I never see her before 10 am.”  Van Pevenage later posted a video on Youtube, describing her drop in confidence after reading the comments, before realizing that it didn’t matter what others may think.  

Sadly, not all cyberbullying stories end happily.  In 2015, 52% of teens surveyed reported being cyberbullied, meaning only 1 in 5 cyberbullying cases were reported to the police.  As meaningful and touching as cyberbullying awareness ads can be, many believe that although outright malicious intent may be behind a bully’s actions, a substantial amount of cases are caused by ignorance and a refusal to understand circumstances, as exampled by Ashley Van Pevenage’s experience.  

Instead of teaching kids the stereotypical bully trope as being a lonely, disliked, and angry person, maybe open-mindedness could serve a purpose here by teaching children to be accepting of others, and to help them realize that no matter how much they may dislike a statement or picture posted online, nasty comments are never warranted.  Under different circumstances, some could argue that if the original post is offensive itself, then it calls for a tirade of insults, but I am a firm believer in the idea that if something bothers you, it should be approached in a healthy and progressive way, like an email of complaint or a letter that explains why you feel the way you do, instead of insulting the original commenter until they are forced to delete their accounts.  Who knows, by writing a letter or email you may even change the person’s mind, which I’d say is definitely better than bullying them to the point of isolation.