ABC Family Channel film Cyberbully aired twice Sunday, July 17, 2011 and then again Wednesday, July 20, 2011. The film, which was released in partnership with [Delete] Digital Drama and Seventeen magazine, shed light on a very relevant topic for today's young adults. The hope is that parents watched along with their young people as it touched on the issue of cyberbullying.
First question. What is cyberbullying? http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/ has a lot of answers as to what is considered to be cyberbullying. In summary, it is any kind of behavior ranging from harassing communications and assaults on an individual. Just as bullying can involve disability, age, race, religion, etc., cyberbullying often targets the same kind of areas.
In this film, Emily Osment plays a high school girl named Taylor who receives a computer for her birthday. She ends up signing up for a social networking site similar to the ever popular Facebook at the encouragement of a couple of her friends. From the start, another classmate, Lindsay, becomes a problem for Taylor.
Taylor's brother ends up hacking into her profile and changing her status, but by the time Taylor learns of it, her reputation is already faltering as everyone in her class sees the status and starts making very harassing inappropriate comments on the status. Taylor's mom encourages her to remove the profile, but Taylor hangs on.
To address one area of concern, it is not a simple matter of blocking the bullies. The bullies are often smarter than their victims and end up creating fake profiles and go right back after their victims. Taylor's friend Samantha does this when she creates a fake profile pretending to be a guy that ends up turning around and misusing personal conversations from chats with Taylor and begins posting falsehoods about her.
Turning the computer off does not help deter cyberbullying as the audience that sees the comments about what is going on can carry over into school, work and social life. This is what happens to Taylor in the film. It gets so bad that some students end up posting a spoof video related to the falsehoods which send Taylor over the edge.
Taylor is from a broken family. This factor alone adds fuel to the situation as Taylor hardly ever hears from her father. So by the time the spoof video is posted on Taylor's profile, she is so depressed by the situation that she posts a video that her friend Samantha sees and becomes concerned over. Samantha does the right thing when she calls Taylor's mom for help and rushes over to Taylor's house. Taylor is found having locked herself in the bathroom and trying to open a bottle of pills.
As a result, Taylor ends up on a sedative for a few days and is restricted from accessing her profile. But she starts attending group therapy sessions with other young people who have also been victims of cyberbullying. The group delves into things they can do to stop being victims and to help others. Who can you tell if you are a victim? What can you do?
While all of this is going on, Taylor's mother starts trying to find the individual responsible for the fake profile that nearly ruined Taylor's life. In the process, she runs into the father of Lindsay, the main harasser, who retorts that he is an attorney and that his daughter has rights under the First Amendment. This is another cause of concern when it comes to cyberbullying. How far does the First Amendment extend when it comes to harassing and threatening communication? Is it really protected speech?
One of the things that comes to light for Taylor is when Samantha reveals that she is the one who created the fake profile and is now a victim of cyberbullying herself. The two of them both agree to speak with the media which then helps them to make sure laws get passed in their state to protect people against cyberbullies.
The film reveals a startling statistic: Only 34 of the 50 states have laws against cyberbullying. Even more startling for Alabama residents, Alabama has no law.
Young people have actually become suicide statistics over something that has been said on social networks about them.
Facebook has rules in place that prohibit such behavior, but it still occurs. When Facebook actually had an e-mail address for victims of cyberbullying to send information to, it was a little easier to put a stop to. For example, it is against Facebook rules to establish a hate group against any people group on Facebook. But there was a hate group that had basically stated that people with peanut allergies would be better off dead because people without peanut allergies feel inconvenienced when schools go peanut free. There was a young lady who was in a peanut allergy support group that had stated that seeing some of the things the hate group was saying made her want to hurt herself. I ended up reporting the group as a result, sending an e-mail with copies of the statements. The group did get shut down.
Today, there is a report/block button, but who knows what happens from there? Does Facebook even do anything?
Overall, I personally feel that this film shed light on an area of extreme relevance for today's young people (35 and under) and their parents, youth workers, teachers, etc. It served as a sort of call to attention and call for action.
What will it take for the cyberbullying laws to go nationwide? More victims becoming statistics? I hope not.
Q&A with Emily Osment