The impact of cyberbullying among MVHS students
While the dismissal bell rings, she turns on her phone to check Instagram. For an anonymous sophomore, who will be referred to as Janet in order to protect her identity, this was part of her daily routine. What wasn’t though, was seeing an account under her own name request to follow her.
“On one of the first accounts, the bio was like ‘I want to be the next Nikolas Cruz,’ and the username was [my name] and the profile photo was [of me],” Janet said. “Once it got really bad because they started using my dad’s name so I thought something had to be done.”
This became a recurring incident as the bully created more accounts, many using her name to throw around profanities, and Janet turned to student advocate Richard Prinz for help. Prinz, who is trained in handling cases of bullying at MVHS, believes that cyberbullying might be the most common form of harassment.
“It’s interesting [how] bullying takes on many different degrees,” Prinz said. “[The internet] is so much like either you’re my friend or you’re not my friend. I think that’s one of the problems with social media. It’s not personal, it’s not in person, [but instead,] it’s virtual, and you got this huge distance from somebody. You’re not thinking about what you’re doing, you’re just reacting.”
However, Janet’s bully didn’t stop there. They continued to post comments on her friends’ Instagram pages about Janet wanting to be the next Nikolas Cruz. At one point, the bully impersonated her father through one of their accounts, saying they wanted Janet dead.
Fortunately for Janet, she had a online support from friends and strangers who posted on Instagram, encouraging others to block and report these accounts. While Janet says this had no effect on the bully, as they continued to create accounts, this support helped her know she wasn’t alone.
“Some people that I barely even knew posted on their story saying not to follow the fake accounts and report the accounts,” Janet said. “I was really thankful and it helped a lot. It was just nice to know that people knew it wasn’t me.”
Being a bystander is someone freshman Vy Pham does not want to be in any case of bullying. She believes stepping in is a witnesses’ only option. The most recent instance of bullying she witnessed was when a close friend of hers had offensive comments left on their Instagram for setting a profile photo that was similar to another girl’s. Pham found it hard to watch and stepped in to help her friend delete their Instagram account, ultimately taking action to separate the bully from their lives.
“If you don’t step in, the situation could get worse and the victim could be affected more,” Pham said. “In some situations that even leads to the victim being assaulted or [dying by] suicide. So if you really want to help them, it’s best to step in.”
Prinz agrees with Pham’s belief of always stepping in no matter the situation. To Prinz, a witness only adds to the bullying and if no one takes initiative, it may proceed to get worse.
“It’s not like watching YouTube, you know, you’re part of the situation. So everybody needs to take responsibility,” Prinz said. “As soon as it happens, somebody needs to try to [stop it] because somebody could really get hurt.”
Janet has found no clear reason as to why she has been targeted for months since the first account was made, the issue remains unsolved, though the administration is looking into it. A few weeks ago, another account was made, prompting Janet and fellow students to wonder what brings a bully to do what they do.
Pham believes that all bullies, online or not, may be victims themselves. She says bullies may use online harassment as an outlet for their pain, knowing they’ll face no immediate consequence.
“Bullies come from lack of self-confidence, so they target others who they think would be not confident. [They] remind them of themselves,” Pham said. “[They’re] not facing the person in real life, so they would be more honest and they wouldn’t be as afraid.”
To bring an end to the cycle of bullying, Prinz spent time outside of school in Santa Cruz through the Conflict Resolution Center to train in a system which revolves around restorative justice and mediation. This system brings everyone involved to share their side of the story and work to resolve the situation. Prinz uses this system for both physical and online bullying and has seen the positive effect it has had on both parties.
“When you do mediation, and they can really see the [pain], there’s something transformative that happens,” Prinz said. “There is a victim and perpetrator. So, the victim kind of says what they need to to the other person and there’s an attempt to bring people together to resolve the problem.”
Janet didn’t get the chance to practice mediation with the person whom she suspects to be the bully due to them moving away. However, admin are continuing to look into this case.
Janet says her bully left no effect on her and is proud that she had at least attempted to fight back. She emphasises that it is important to reach out for help, regardless of the situation.
“It’s important to stand your ground,” Janet said. “You can’t let other people push you over and take advantage of you. It’s not an embarrassing thing to talk to your friends or talk to an adult about it because it’s nice to open up.”