In this series, Flyby Staff Writer Olivia M. Munk identifies, dissects, and discusses ideas, articles, and opinions found in popular media and popular culture. She's here to inform you and to make you think—about what's out there, what it means to us, and what it might mean for you.
WHAT IT IS
In 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate shared a video over the internet of his romantic encounters with another man; 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after being tormented online by girls from her high school; most recently, Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide and died several days later after her peers shared images of her rape.
Kids can be cruel—and it's clear that the newest technology can enable them to be even crueler. With the advent of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, not to mention instant picture messaging over cell phones, even the briefest of debaucherous acts become immediately immortalized. Using the internet to bully peers, aptly called "cyberbullying," has become an increasingly frequent phenomenon in recent years.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times, however, suggests that we're being overzealous in our definition of "bullying." The piece's author, Emily Bazelon, argues: "The word is being overused—expanding, accordionlike, to encompass both appalling violence or harassment and a few mean words." Is it possible to say, however, that "a few mean words" does not constitute bullying when these very words—or images, or videos—can and do drive some to take their own lives?
Although social media has its obvious benefits, it is just as obvious to most that whatever these kids are doing, bullying or not, something must be done to prevent teenagers from being tormented by their peers to the point of suicide. The question is: What?
WHY IT CAUGHT OUR ATTENTION
Everyone's seen the typical teenage "mean girl" comedy—there's "Mean Girls," for starters, which depicts even lesser evils than the homicidal adolescents in "Heathers," and then there's every John Hughes movie portraying the hell that is high school. "Drama," as girls tend to dub conflict in school, is seemingly unavoidable in a world of proms, cliques, and anthropologically divided cafeterias. Bazelon cites a 2011 study by Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd in which they "argue that the emic use of 'drama' allows teens to distance themselves from practices which adults may conceptualize as bullying." Bazelon believes that when school-aged children engage in online altercations, the term "bullying" is thrown around too readily. "Drama," in high school and college jargon, arouses a sense of girlish pettiness; bullying, until the phenomenon of cyberbullying, brought about an image of a burly kid on the schoolyard who stole your lunch money. But in tragic situations such as the recent passing of Rehtaeh Parsons, is the term "bullying" severe enough?