Earlier this year, a 39-year-old woman came forward to identify herself as the subject of a meme titled “Meanwhile, at Walmart,” in which she can be seen falling off a motorized shopping cart.
And just last week, hackers on the social media sites 4chan and Reddit threatened to leak nude pictures of celebrities, including actresses Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried.
It’s easy to forget that in every picture we see, the people in that picture are real.
Sometimes, it seems like technology is evolving, but people aren’t. Cyberbullying seems to be an issue that we tend not to take seriously until it happens to us or someone we know.
I knew about cases of cyberbullying from the news, but didn’t feel the direct effects of it until this year when someone started sending emails to other people on campus from a fake address in my friend’s name. While he wasn’t hurt by it, he had to deal with an anxiety-inducing situation that could have potentially jeopardized his reputation.
We grew up during the rise of social media, and along with it, the spread of cyberbullying. In 2010, I had just started high school when I heard the news that Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly outed him by setting up a secret webcam that livestreamed Clementi kissing another man.
This incident brought cyberbullying into a national spotlight, and soon after, high schools and middle schools began to crack down on it. For example, in 2010, New Jersey passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights to tackle harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) in schools. Everything from a side comment in the hallway to a tweet complaining about a teacher was grounds for an HIB case.
In my experience, however, it seemed that cyberbullying easily became another one of those high school assembly topics that we didn’t take seriously. In the same way that “just say no” doesn’t work for preventing alcohol and drugs, scare tactics and a laundry list of warnings from a school official won’t stop our habits.
People still maintained the same social media habits, good or bad, even after learning about cyberbullying — and those habits continue for some people in college, too. Many college students have Snapchats, private Twitter accounts and “Finstas” — fake Instagram accounts, where we put our trust in that sense of privacy to say things we wouldn’t say on “real” accounts.
Beyond our own personal profiles, some of us also experienced the short-lived hype of Yik Yak, an app that allowed people to post anonymously about something going on in a specific location. Of course, on college campuses, several of the posts ended up being hurtful comments about students and professors.
Though it is often seen as an issue that affects high schoolers or middle schoolers, online harassment and bullying isn’t a thing of the past for our age group. A study conducted by Indiana State University found that 22 percent of college students have experienced cyberbullying.
We have the power to choose how we will use the internet. Compassion is the key to avoiding harmful incidents of cyberbullying. The internet is constantly changing, but one thing will always remain consistent: by looking out for each other, we can make a difference in someone’s life and make sure the bullies don’t win.
Junior journalism major
Printed in the 3/22/17 issue.