Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince had moved to Massachusetts from Ireland and after having a relationship with a high-school football player, became a target for harassment from jealous classmates. Prince was soon the object of hatred at her school and was sent Facebook and text messages calling her names and sending her threats against her life. Prince came home after school on Jan. 14, 2010 and killed herself.
Prince’s isn’t the only story of this kind involving online bullying.
A Brevard County freshman said she recently was bullied on Formspring, a question-and-answer based social media site that can be linked to Facebook. Formspring allows anonymous postings which can encourage uncensored posts.
“People told me that I should kill myself,” she said. “They told me that I was useless and that there was no hope for my life. It was anonymous, so I still don’t know who said all this stuff to me”.
In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after being cyber bullied by a classmate and her mother on Myspace. Meier had supposedly started a rumor about her classmate, and the classmate’s mother suggested embarrassing Meier as a form of revenge. The mother and daughter created a fake Myspace account pretending to be a teenage boy interested in Meier. They gained her trust and learned her secrets. Meier thought she loved this pretend boy. When her virtual boyfriend turned on her and told all of her private secrets, Meier killed herself.
There have always been bullies, but now the threats are becoming more personal and increasingly inescapable. Bullying that begins at school can continue at home via negative text messages and abusive posts on Facebook. Bullying has also become more public with Facebook posts for everyone on their friends’ lists to see. According to www.isafe.org, people who are cyber bullied are twice as likely to commit suicide than those suffering face-to-face abuse. In addition, 42 percent of teenagers say they have been bullied online, according to www.cyberbullying.us, and 25 percent of them say it has happened more than once.
School Resource Officer Chuck Landmesser said people sometimes think cyber bullying is not a part of the law, and are surprised when they are reprimanded for their actions. “Cyber bullying is considered both stalking and harassment and, if there is enough documentation, it can get you in trouble both at school and in a criminal court depending on the severity of the issue,” Landmesser said. “It is usually a misdemeanor, but if it happens an extreme amount of times with some serious threats, you could be looking at a criminal charge of harassment and stalking.”
Assistant Principal Jim Melia said while cyber bullying is not frequently reported at West Shore, there are school board policies that can effect students who use social sites and cell phones to be hurtful to others.
“Depending on the severity of the harassment and the amount of warnings the student is given, the punishment in school can lead from anything between a warning with Officer Landmesser and me to actual expulsion,” he said.
The freshman, who asked not to be identified for this story, said she still hasn’t gotten over being attacked on Facebook and Formspring.
“At first, it happened every day, then I started getting hate comments on Facebook too,” she said. “I never really coped with it. I would just cry, but eventually I got over it. It hasn’t happened in a while, but it was awful when it was going on.”