A few years ago I had a husband who told me that the internet was the new Wild West. On the net lives a new kind of outlaw and the government is going to have to figure out how to regulate the happenings in cyberspace one twist at a time. Two things amazed me: one that he was as insightful as he was for a musician, and two, how he could be so insightful without ever surfing the web himself. Whatever, he was right. The internet IS the new Wild West and sheriff badges are for the taking. Newly “badged” cyber sheriffs are out to wrangle Billy the Kid, no longer a BANK robber now he wants to steal your identity and rob individual accounts. Bad guys are lurking in the lines, waiting to pounce on children, women, the elderly and pretty much everyone else. They no longer have to hide in the shadows, they can hide in the comfort of their laptop. Where is Charles Bronson now that we need him? Clint Eastwood has hung up his cowboy hat and his suit hiding really big guns. Who are our next heros? What will they be wearing other than that must-have snarl that all angry vigilantes wear? Maybe it is time to sit and watch all of The Matrix movies in one long marathon session. Keanu Reeves could be the answer.
Last week some high school teenagers were arrested because they bullied a fellow classmate and she committed suicide. A big part of the smear campaign against her was the use of Facebook, MySpace and texting. New technology used for all the wrong reasons: to hurt another person. Though none of these teens told her to kill herself, or gave her the means to do so, they still are guilty of inflicting pain; but how guilty is for the judge and jury to figure out amidst the tumble weeds of this new terrain the world is trying to tame. I asked my students, all sophomores and approximately 135 of them what they thought about the charges and the crime these teens allegedly committed. Some immediately said that none of these bullies killed her, she chose to do this to herself. Others were emphatic. They said she was driven to suicide, and the bullies caused her to become hopeless and feel so isolated, death became her only way out of the situation.
I asked about bully tactics at our school. It is happening, they reported, and many of these students began to brag about how they have stood up to bullies and helped out a fellow classmate who was being shamed by some alpha-dog. Schools need to implement campaigns against bullying. I have ideas and saw that these small talks ignited many of my students into becoming anti-bully ambassadors for the moment. Sparks, then flames as we all know!
While speaking with these sophomores, I learned if any football player talks smack about their coach online they face dismissal from the team. I love football rules. Foot ball rules should trickle down through out the school. I would love to make a student run because they say “they can’t write a thesis” or “didn’t understand their homework.” “No homework? What are you some intellectual sissy? Oh, poor little sophomore! Drop and give me twenty!” My students would be in great shape by the end of the school year! But I digress, sort of…you see even coaches won’t tolerate being cyber-bullied.
I understand the impact of the bully without the use of Facebook, but once the web attacks start, they are emblazoned for the world to see. Teenagers already think they are the center of the universe and Facebook proves it. Everyone is watching and now to a teen, EVERYONE IS watching! My oldest daughter was the subject of major bullying in high school. It was so bad, this beautiful, intelligent loving girl took tests to graduate early and refused to walk the stage at graduation. The bully arena not only included girls and the guys who wanted to impress the girls; the teachers were involved, too. Seems small towns stick together. She is fine now, and some of the bullies have apologized or at least acted like there was no problem between them when they have incidentally run in to each other. My daughter told me that she was treated horribly, but she never once thought of suicide.
During the time she was bullied I called the police and began a ‘harassment file.’ I went to the school and spoke to principals, teachers and counselors. No one helped other than the social worker- thank God for her! Our family was being attacked as well, and this all culminated with what I call, The Cheerleader Incident.” Daughter number two and I went to Sonic for a yummy diet cherry limeade. We were the only car in the lot; it was late. A car drives in and squeezes in so close to our car it was uncomfortable. Then they rolled down their windows and began calling us names. I drove out of Sonic and they followed so close on my tail I could not brake to turn into my driveway. Some have said I should have put on my brakes and let them hit me; but, as a mom, I did not want to put my daughter in that situation. If she got hurt, who then is to blame? Yes, that would be me!
I called the police yet again, and since he was one of the cheerleader’s second cousin’s uncle or something, he had a pow wow with the family, and then there were other family interventions from the police… the at-home harassment stopped.
I remember the pain my oldest daughter felt. I remember the pain we all felt. It was awful. If cyberspace was involved I am certain it would have increased the shame to pain factor.
This little girl who killed herself had a wound. It may not have been visible, but it was there. If her wound was a gaping slice of mangled flesh and her fellow classmates torn at it and made the wound so bad it became infected and killed her it is an easy call. They are guilty. Her wound was just as big and dangerous as if it were exposed on the skin. Every insult torn into it more, every word in cyberspace cut it deeper. These bullies got what they wanted; they wanted this girl to suffer. And suffer, she certainly did.
The law will decide. A new regulation in the wild wild web may tame yet another small parcel of cyberspace, making it more habitable for all of us all over the world. Our new hero may be the judge with the gavel in their hand, slamming down one regulation at a time.
It’s how the wild web will be won.