Monday, November 26, 2007

Cyber Bullying Tragedy

Last week it was reported that a 13 year old girl from Missouri named Megan committed suicide last fall after a fight with an online friend. One of the most disturbing facts of the story is that the online “friend” that she had a fight with was made up. The mother of one of Megan’s former friends posed as a 16 year old named Josh reportedly to see what Megan would say about her daughter. She created a profile on MySpace for this fictitious teenager and befriended Megan for several weeks. “Josh” then abruptly ended his relationship with Megan, who had suffered from depression. Megan killed herself later that same evening. The parents of Megan found out later that Josh was made up by a family that lived down the street that they considered friends. Prosecutors have not pressed charges against the family and are still reviewing the case.

Suicide attempts related to cyberbullying, while rare, are not unprecedented. There is the much publicized case involving Ryan Patrick Halligan which is spotlighted in the iSAFE training videos and curriculum. Officials in Japan report cyberbullying as a growing problem in their country. One boy committed suicide after classmates posted a nude photo of him on a website and sent him emails demanding money.

One of the major difficulties parents and teachers face when it comes to combating cyber bullying is the victim’s reluctance to share what is happening. A lot of times, victims will not tell their parents that they are being bullied for fear of how their parents will react. A new book entitled Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age was published by researchers at Clemson University and offers information and education for parents and educators. One of the book’s authors, Susan Limber, offers this advice to parents, “Probably the most effective way to prevent and address cyber bullying is to make sure that parents and educators have an ongoing dialogue with children about it, including expectations for online behavior and what to do if you are cyber bullied or witness someone else being cyber bullied.”

Internet video giant YouTube has started a campaign to combat cyberbullying in which people can post anti-bullying videos and messages. and are both sites that contain research and information about cyber bullying.