Monday, May 18, 2015
It apparently started over a boy.
The comments. The looks. The “Oh, I’m sorry” bumps in the hallway between classes, followed by stifled guffaws which proved no one is ever really sorry in such instances.
It starts out as two people having a “beef.” Emotions get involved. Words that can’t be taken back get spoken. The age-old problem of jealousy. It goes back in human history about as far as you can look, and if it isn’t dealt with in the initial stages, it can lead to some vicious and even deadly outcomes.
In this particular case, the body of a 12 year-old girl was found at the base of a cement silo. In one of the reports I read, detailing the tragic death of Rebecca Sedwick, they weren’t sure if she jumped from the 19-foot platform, the 24-foot platform, or the 60-foot one at the top. At least 15 girls were involved by the end of the investigation. Even more young people, from as far away as North Carolina, knew about Rebecca’s predicament and her comments about wanting to “end it all.” But they said nothing. Alerted no one.
How were those girls involved, you ask? Bumping into her in the hallways. An intimidation tactic. Texting her, making threats of physical harm, like “She wants to fight you.” That’s a common one. Instigators getting in the middle, ramping up the stakes. Pushing proverbial buttons, trying to see if any of them ignite a fire. Other comments, like “Wait til I see you. I’ll beat your ***” are more direct. Threats of bodily harm always prove to be game changers.
Others texted Rebecca, exhorting her to “Go kill yourself” and asking her, “Why are you still alive?” There were other questions asked, too. Rhetorical in nature, they are designed to push a person toward suicide, planting ideas in their head they may have never thought of on their own, like “How many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die?” and “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”
The story began at school. Over a boy, investigators said. When Rebecca’s parents decided to home-school her due to the incessant bullying, then it morphed into cyberbullying. It’s nothing more than long-distance bullying. Bullying with a long arm. And just so we’re clear, cyberbullying is more sadistic because the bullies often say in veiled anonymity things they would never have the courage to say face to face.
Also, if you think this is a “girl problem,” think again. And if you think it’s always about boys liking girls or girls liking boys with jealousy raising its ugly head, bullying has many avenues and targets.
If there is a way to belittle others, children and teenagers will find it. Take the case of Ryan Halligan. An older case involving a boy with a learning disability. You can just imagine where this story is headed, can’t you? Other students making fun of him because of his educational struggles. You can just hear the peers calling him “stupid” and “retard,” can’t you? But if you think that’s where it started and ended, think again. The merciless stabs at his intellect got old, which is often the case with bullies. “That’s no fun anymore.” Especially if the victim is man or woman enough to ignore it. In this case, the derogatory name-calling transformed into someone accusing Ryan of being gay (a rumor with no basis). This is a very common ploy bullies utilize, especially amongst boys. Those incessant rumors were passed around amongst classmates and others via AOL instant messenger, that day’s version of today’s Facebook IM.
The taunts and jabs went on for two years. Ryan’s story culminated with a popular girl named Ashley. At some point over Ryan’s last summer on Earth, it was learned that Ryan had a crush on Ashley. She was a girl who defended Ryan in the beginning when others made fun of him. However, as is often the case with so many of these stories, Ashley became popular along the way, and defending Ryan became detrimental to her social ascendancy. So, instead of standing up for what was right and just, she joined the crowd.
Over that summer, Ashley thought it would be funny to pretend to like him only to gain personal information about him.1 These IM chats back and forth were then passed along to friends via AOL IM. And you know what those friends did with that information, right? You guessed it. They passed it along to their friends…who passed it along to their friends…who passed it along, etc., etc…. When confronted about it in school the next year, Ashley referred to Ryan as a loser. Ryan’s response? “It’s girls like you who make me want to kill myself.”
Hey, Mom? Dad? Ever heard of these: Kik. Ask.fm. Yik Yak.
What about Whisper? Tinder? Omegle?
No. I’m not speaking Greek. Nor a language from the planet Melmac. I’m listing the names of cell phone apps kids and teenagers use today most parents know nothing about.
Most kids know Mom and Dad are on Facebook. Mom and Dad are often on Twitter, too. So, what do kids do? They go where their parents aren’t. Sites like these mentioned above are fraught with unsupervised kids doing what unsupervised kids normally do…things they’d never do if they knew Mom and Dad (or the police) were watching.
In the world of cyberspace, it’s much like the Wild, Wild, West in the 1800s…in more ways than one. And if your child has a cell phone, even worse, a smart phone, then you may be placing your child in harm’s way…in ways you never thought possible.
Take the case of the 35 year-old man in the UK who posed as Justin Bieber and convinced young girls to do things they’d never do on Facebook because Mom and Dad might be watching. Oh, by the way, he used the ruse to get young boys to do similar acts, then used their images to his own, evil devices to further his cause. How did he accomplish this heinous crime? He got the kids to use their webcams, take a picture of themselves (and worse), and when they did, it automatically downloaded to his computer. He then threatened the victims with disclosure if they told. Girls as far away as Tasmania were victimized. One girl tried to commit suicide when he released unflattering photos of her on Facebook, complete with her name, address, and other pertinent information.
There have been other instances wherein molesters and pranksters trick children and teenagers by pretending to be someone they are not and then getting the child to give up crucial information about their families (Here we go again! See footnote #1), about their home’s computer network, wireless system, etc. The next thing you know, they have full access to your home via the web cam on your child’s computer. But remember, it can all start with the cell phone…in the hands of children and teens. No bullying here, per se. But horrible activity that can damage lives, nevertheless.
Of course, there are the usual suspects: perverts trolling chat rooms and other sites your child may frequent, fishing for information. Other lowlifes try to set up “meet and greets.” Often, it’s simply to get that young person alone and commit rape. In other cases, in a growing industry more and more perverts and drug users are using for financial benefit, these creeps are setting up meet and greets for more nefarious purposes, like human trafficking. All because unsupervised children have cell phones (and let’s not forget computers), and Mom and Dad have no idea what they are doing with those devices.
So, ask yourself, Mom, Dad…Do you know what’s really on your child’s cell phone? If you ask to see it, do they willingly give it to you in a full disclosure kind of way? Or do they hem and haw, get defensive, and start quoting laws about their right to privacy like a jailhouse lawyer? And does the phone have the app called Poof or Snapchat on it? If it does, then you have to ask yourself this question: “What are they hiding?” You probably want to ask them that question, too. These apps, available on both Apple iTunes and Google Play, are designed to carry on conversations, send photos, pass along videos, etc., that are, once viewed, automatically deleted from the person’s phone. Teens see this as an excellent way to say things about other people without having any evidence on their phone “left behind.”
The problem is, kids and teenagers don’t know how all this technology really works. Nothing is ever deleted in cyberspace. Companies who are in the social media business, for the purpose of staying bulletproof when it comes to lawsuits, keep every text, every video, every everything your child (and you, for that matter) posts online. If a lawyer filing a lawsuit ever subpoenaed those records, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Kik, Ask.fm and the like, want to be able to produce them. Their company and subsequent profits (a.k.a. livelihood) trump your need for privacy. Oh, and by the way, they figure since you are using their services for free and have to incur such a huge expense like storing all this data, they have retooled their service provider rules, and continue to do so each time a major lawsuit is settled and changes the way they have to do business. Now, in most cases, they not only have to keep your material available, they own it. When you clicked “I Agree to the Terms & Conditions, blah, blah, blah…,” you summarily turned over your rights to any and all material uploaded therein, henceforth, and forevermore. Nothing is ever really free anymore…
So, when your child downloads hurtful and derogatory comments, uploads unflattering selfies of targeted victims, makes comments like “Go kill yourself” or “I wish you would just die already,” then it’s there. Forevermore. And since these companies own it, they will hand it out to whichever law enforcement agency or prosecuting attorney asks for it.
To get a picture of where most social media moguls stand in this issue, all you have to do is get to know Ilja and Mark Terebin, the brothers from Latvia who started and own Ask.fm. They blame the media and parents for kids becoming bullies. It’s a harsh (and vulgar) message they have for you, and they think you, the parent, are at fault. You allow your child to be swayed by the media. You allow your child to have a phone or computer. You allow your child free run of any sites they see fit to visit without any oversight on their part. They believe they shouldn’t have to police their site for your child’s bad behavior. Their mother Ludmilla Terebin agrees.
It’s your fault.
And maybe, it is. With 120 million subscribers worldwide and 15 million of those in the United States, Ask.fm says 42% of those 120 million are under the age of 17. In the United States, those would all be minors. They can’t vote. They can’t smoke. They can barely drive. Yet, we freely give them the keys to this evil kingdom, pat them on the back, and tell them to “have a good day at school.” The logic really doesn’t compute, does it?
And that, my friends, take us to Part 2 of my blog for next month. You’ll never guess what Facebook and the others are being forced to do now. It’s a game changer. And possibly your child—if he or she is the one bullying other kids—will be the target.
For some helpful articles about the Apps your kids use, check these out:
Also, just type in “The Most Dangerous Apps” into your web browser, and you’ll have more reading than you’ll care to do.
Until next month.
1May I add here that this ploy (of pretending to be someone or something you are not to gain personal information) is used by not only cyberbullies, but also child molesters, identity thieves, psychopaths, and serial killers. This should tell you something about the psychoses of human nature when this practice manifests itself and should be a huge red flag for you if you witness it or hear of someone doing it.
*Generic photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.
A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, he is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.
Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24 , The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.
Facebook: C. Kevin Thompson – Author Page
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson