by Alex Vlisides, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Cyberbullying. It seems every few weeks or months, another story surfaces in the media with the same tragic narrative. A teenager was bullied, both at school and over the internet. The quiet young kid was the target of some impossibly cruel torment by their peers. Tragically, the child felt they had nowhere to turn, and took their own life.
Most recently, a 12 year old girl from Lakeland, FL, named Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death from the roof of a factory after being bullied online for months by a group of 15 girls. The tragedy has spurred the same news narrative as the many before, and the same calls for inadequate action. Prosecute the bullies or their parents. Blame the victim’s parents for not caring enough. Blame the school for not stepping in.
News media’s institutional bias is to cover the shocking story. The problem is that when considering policy changes to help the huge number of kids who are bullied online, these tragic stories may be the exact wrong cases to consider. Cyberbullying is not an issue that tragically surfaces every few months like a hurricane or a forest fire. It goes on every day, in virtually every middle school and high school in the country. Schools need policies crafted not just to prevent the worst, but to make things better each day.
It is incredibly important to remember students like Sedwick. But to address cyberbullying, it may be just as important to remember the more common effects of bullying: the student who stops raising their hand in class or quits a sports team or fears even going on social media sites. These things should be thought of not as potential warning signs of a tragedy, but as small tragedies themselves.
The media will never run headlines on this side of bullying. This means that policy makers and those advocating for change must correct for this bias, changing the narrative and agenda of cyberbullying to include the common tragedies. The issue is complex, emotional and ever-changing. Though it may not make for breaking news, meaningful change will honor students like Rebecca Ann Sedwick, while protecting students who continue to face cyberbullying every day.