More than a decade ago, bullying with the prefix “cyber” was almost unheard of. Now, physical assault can be complemented by a 24-hour-per-day, seven-days-a-week online assault. Just about anyone can use Instant Messaging, e-mails, chat rooms and websites to humiliate peers. But the damage done by cyber bullies is no less real, and can be infinitely more painful. Now, as electronic communication continues to expand into all facets of life, we as the College of William and Mary community need to take a firm stance against cyberbullying. Our most recent episode was alarming, and should spur the community to act. From my own personal experiences, I know the pain an entire community can feel when we allow for these incidents to happen with little regard for their consequences.
Around the spring of my junior year, my high school was affected by a near national case of cyberbullying. A clique of girls had a 200 page-long Facebook thread titled, “Mwaahhahaha,” filled with demeaning gossip about others. Someone hacked into their accounts, downloaded the files and distributed them to several students and administrators. Soon enough, the whole situation blew out of proportion. We attracted unwanted press, which named our incident the “Prep School Facebook Scandal,” and news articles appeared, comparing the incident to “Gossip Girl” and the Burn Book from “Mean Girls.” However, the damage done to the school’s reputation was not nearly as deep as the hurt inflicted on our community. The 880 students, not to mention faculty, were all affected. Even the girls who made the initial Facebook posts were deeply hurt. Our Internet usage became even more restricted and overseen by our IT department. Our school pooled in money to hire private investigators to attempt to trace the hacker, which, as of present, has come to no avail.
My high school’s incident highlights two major points I learned about cyberbullying’s hidden and devastating potential. The victims only knew after one of the girl’s Facebook accounts was hacked, downloaded and distributed to others. This case has drawn some criticism from my high school community, with some people claiming that since the incident arose due to a breach of privacy, it does not constitute a true case of cyberbullying. Though I agree that hacking is not the usual course that bullying takes, I dismiss the argument that this case was not cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is any slander and harm done by electronic means, and vile gossip — even if it’s posted privately — should not be treated any differently. Cyberbullying can also be very unpredictable. As was the case with my high school, an incident of cyberbullying can be months long, or it can be sudden, as was the case here at the College. I encourage the College’s administrators to broaden the definition of cyberbullying to its most subtle boundaries. This would allow for a policy to be drafted that expands on all areas concerning cyberbullying, and would chart the course for effective action in the long term, should new cases arise.
Cyberbullying can be avoided, but the first step is to recognize that it’s dangerous, and can easily spiral out of control if not carefully monitored. I urge the administration to act so that it does not become a pressing issue. We ought to not let this recent episode float away inconsequentially. Given the most recent events, we cannot afford to wait until the next case occurs. Instead, we must anticipate. We must be preventative, and not reactive. The College administration should not only address cyberbullying during Orientation, but take a proactive attitude and provide resources throughout the year to prevent cyberbullying. The consequences could be enormous should the College fail to act effectively.
Email Benming Zhang at email@example.com.