My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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reflections on Lori Drew, bullying, and solutions to helping kids

The involvement of Lori Drew (an adult) in the suicide of Megan Meier has been an unavoidable topic. Last week, Drew was tried on three counts of accessing computers without authorization, a legal statute meant to stop hackers. She was acquitted of all felonies but convicted of three misdemeanors. The lawsuit itself was hugely problematic and clearly the result of prosecutors wanting to get her on anything. But in focusing on the technology, prosecutors reinforced the problematic view that technology has anything to do with this atrocity.

Let’s be clear. Megan Meier’s suicide is a tragedy. The fact that it was precipitated by bullying is horrific. And the fact that an adult was involved is downright heinous. But by centering the conversation around MySpace, people lose track of the core problems here.

Lori Drew is a quintessential “helicopter parent.” She believed that Meier was bullying her daughter. She also believed that her daughter was innocent of any wrong-doing. (While there is no way to prove or disprove that latter belief, it is uber important for parents to understand that most bullying is reciprocal. Teens bully back and the severity typically escalates over time.) Rather than teaching her daughter to take the high ground, Drew got involved. She worked with her daughter to bully back.

Flickr Photo by Steven FernandezBullying is a horrific practice, but it’s also a common response when people struggle to attain status. Backstabbing, rumor-mongering, and enticement aren’t unique to teenagers. Look in any corporate office or political campaign and you’ll see some pretty nasty bullying going on. The difference is that adults have upped the ante, learned how to manipulate and hide their tracks. In other words, adults are much better equipped to do dreadful damage in their bullying that children and teens. They have practice. And it’s not a good thing.

Lori Drew abused her power as a knowledgeable adult by leveraging her adult knowledge of psychology to humiliate and torment a teen girl. Put another way, Lori Drew engaged in psychological and emotional child abuse. Child abuse includes the psychological or emotional mistreatment of a child. Unfortunately, most legal statutes focus on sexual and physical abuse and neglect because emotional abuse is very hard to substantiate and prosecute. But realistically, she should’ve been tried with child abuse, not a computer crime.

The fact that technology was involved is of little matter. Sure, she couldn’t have said those things to Megan’s face, but she could’ve hired a boy to do so. (How many movies have been made of boys being roped into teen girls’ humiliation schemes?) The crime she should be convicted of should have nothing to do with technology. She should be tried (and convicted) of psychologically abusing a child.

Why do we focus on the technology? Is it because it is the thing that we don’t understand? Or is it because if we were actually forced to contend with the fact that Drew was abusing a minor to protect her own that we’d have to face our own bad habits in this regard? How many of you have done something problematic to protect your child? I suspect that, at the end of the day, many parents could step in Lori Drew’s shoes and imagine themselves getting carried away in an effort to protect their daughter from perceived injustices. Is that why we’re so centered on the technology?

Let’s also make one thing very clear. This case is NOT TYPICAL. Many are clamoring to make laws based on this case and one thing we know is that bad cases make bad case law. Most of the cases focus on the technology rather than the damage of psychological abuse and the misuse of adult power. Furthermore, most focus on adult to minor abuse and the abuse of minors by strangers even those the majority of bullying is between peers who know each other. And for those who think that bullying is mostly online, think again. The majority of teens believe that bullying is far worse in-person at school than online.

This is where technology comes into play. Bullying probably has not increased because of the Internet, but it’s visibility to adults definitely has. Kids have long been bullied by peers at school without adults ever knowing. Now adults can see it. Most adults think that this means that the Internet is the culprit, but this logic is flawed and dangerous. Stifling bullying online won’t make bullying go away; it’ll just send it back underground. The visibility gives us an advantage. If we see it, we can work with it to stop it.

Approaches Parents and Society Should Take to Help Children

Parents need to be looking out for signs of bullying by their kids and by their kids’ peers. Parents should be educating kids about bullying, about the damage that it does. Most bullying starts out small. If parents catch it early on, they can help give their kids tactics to minimize the escalation. The Internet makes small acts of bullying much more visible, making it easier for parents to help provide guidance. This is a digital advantage because, for the most part, parents only learned of bullying once it had escalated to unbearable levels.

It’s important to note that bullying is best curbed in childhood when children learn that saying something mean gives them power. As a parent, you should be vigilant about never saying mean things about others in front of your child. Even about politicians whom you despise. You should also make it very clear that mean words are intolerable. Set that frame early on and reinforce. If you see mean comments online, call them out, even if they’re nothing more than “your dress is ugly.”

Unfortunately, not all parents are very involved in their kids’ lives and bullying is heavily correlated with problems at home. Bullying is also sometimes prompted by kids’ desire to get attention which creates a vicious cycle. This is why we need solutions that go beyond parents and kids.

The most important thing that we need are digital street workers. When I was in college, college students volunteered as street workers to help teens who were on the street find resources and help. They directed them to psychologists, doctors, and social workers. We need a program like this for the digital streets. We need college-aged young adults to troll the digital world looking out for teens who are in trouble and helping them seek help. We need online counselors who can work with minors to address their behavioral issues without forcing the minor to contend with parents or bureaucracy. We need online social workers that can connect with kids and help them understand their options.

The Internet brings the public into our homes. This terrifies most adults and it means that adults aren’t thinking about how to use this to their advantage. Rather than solely focusing on disturbed adults reaching out to children, let’s build systems to get trained adults to reach out to disturbed children. We need social and governmental infrastructure to build this, but it’s important. The teens who are hurting online are also hurting offline. We can silence their online cries by locking down the Internet, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to help address the core problem. We have the tools to do something about this. We just need the will and the want.

I wish we could turn back the clock and protect Megan Meier from the torment of Drew and her daughter. We can’t. And I’m not sure that any legal or technical measures would do one drop of good in preventing a similar case. (But I would be very happy to see more laws around psychological abuse of minors by adults put on the books… not to prevent but to prosecute.) What we can do is put structures in play to help children who are at-risk. Many of them are invisible. Their plight doesn’t get the broad media coverage that Megan Meier got. But there are far too many of them and their stories have none of the glitz.

They are the kids who are being beaten at home and blog about it. They are the kids who publicly humiliate other kids to get attention. They are the kids who seek sex with strangers as a form of validation. They are the kids who are lonely, suicidal, and self-destructive. They are online. They are calling out for help. Why aren’t we listening? And why are we blaming the technology instead?

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34 comments to reflections on Lori Drew, bullying, and solutions to helping kids

  • “The lawsuit itself”

    I thought this was a criminal, not a civil, proceeding?

    “And I’m not sure that any legal or technical measures would do one drop of good in preventing a similar case.”

    The objective of most if not all criminal law is to serve as a deterrent to prospective future offenders.

    I’m not sure in what way we’re “blaming the technology”? Lori Drew’s computer (or MySpace) isn’t on trial here.

  • First off, I need to echo the sentiment that what happened to Megan Meir is tragic, wrong and deeply upsetting. No child should be treated as she was treated. But I think you’re right–the emphasis should be on criminal behavior and not the tools employed to inflict the abuse. There’s an old quote out there somewhere that goes “hard cases make for bad law,” and I think that’s part of what’s going on here. We need a more modern jurisprudence that takes into account what we know of neurology, biology, technology and modern constraints–but those laws will be, and probably should be slow to develop. It’s too easy to imagine the mis-application of justice and bad laws arising from our emerging understanding of these fields.

    I bet it’s hard for adults to “listen” in this space–we need more stories of positive interventions with youth that serve as guideposts for parents and caring adults–I’m struggling to come up with an example.

    Great post!

  • Wonderful post!
    World (on-line and off-line world) need more people like Danah! :)
    I have translated in italian some excerpts from this post for my blog. :)

  • Really interesting post.

    And interested in your conclusion that we need ‘virtual street workers’. I’ve been doing a lot of work to explore how the Youth Work profession in the UK (which is statutory sector, government supported in the informal education sector rather than faith/health based) can take ‘detached youth work’ (street based work) onto the web.

    We’ve just published a report of a research project to assess how equipped workers are right now – and will be developing training and capacity building projects over the next year to try and support both young people as peer-outreach workers, and trained professionals to work in the online space.

    A bit more here: http://blogs.nya.org.uk/ywsn/ and here: http://detached.youthworkonline.org.uk/profiles/blogs/youth-work-and-social

    There are a lot of issues still to work out with the transfer of social work or youth work into the online environment – but our core argument has been that:

    (a) youth work (particularly detached/street based youth work) has the core skills for online outreach and support work – and only needs the development of some technical skills;

    (b) pro-active outreach work like this makes the web safer for young people;

    (c) this can focus on opportunity as well as risk;

    Would be great to hear about efforts elsewhere to explore the widespread development of virtual outreach / social / youth work…

  • You’re missing some facts, danah, a couple of which came out of the trial, specifically.

    The Drew girl and Megan did have the typical friend break up. However, the reason this went to MySpace is supposedly Megan was saying “bad” things about Sara Drew on MySpace, and Ashley Grills, an employee for Lori Drew, recommended creating a MySpace account to see what Megan was saying.

    The original purpose was to record the “bad” things Megan was saying, to bring as proof to Megan’s mother. Later, Ashley Grills testified the purpose then changed to bringing the print outs to school to humiliate Megan. However, Sara Drew denied her mother’s involvement in the latter. Hard to say, but it doesn’t sound like something a parent would do, it does sound like something a kid would do.

    And that’s where things started going bad–Ashley Grills, Sara, and other kids started changing how they communicated with Megan. They started having “fun”, as kids can, unfortunately, do. Grills said Lori Drew was involved with this, Drew denied it, and so does her daughter. Frankly, I wash this through my commensense detector, and I doubt that busy Mom Lori Drew even paid enough attention to what was going on. We do know for a fact, though, that the communications were coming in via many different means, including AOL instant messenger, and that many of the final communications didn’t happen on the Drew computer. Lori Drew wasn’t present with the final exchange turned nasty.

    I’m not defending Lori Drew. She made really bad decisions, and, as you said, protected her daughter too much. However, I really don’t believe she was involved in any bullying, other than condoning the creation of this account, and it sounds like, not monitoring it well, and not taking the consequences of the account seriously enough–which was bad enough.

    I think, though, that you discount how much of an impact MySpace had on this event. The last pile-on was pure MySpace (and instant messenger)–not only did a friend of Sara’s log in and say nasty things, so did Grills, and so did a bunch of other cyber “friends” of the fictional boy.

    Unfortunately, this behavior is typical of this online environment, and evidenced, strongly, in most comment threads associated with this story.

  • “it is uber important for parents to understand that most bullying is reciprocal. Teens bully back and the severity typically escalates over time”.

    Hi, that is not my observation at all, nor does it tally with most people’s observations. Do you have any evidence to back that up?

  • +1 :-)
    Digital street workers is really a good idea

    The children do not educate themselves. In the digital worlds like elsewhere, they need the holding and the handling of adults. To spread the idea that digital worlds belongs to the teenagers is the worst service which one can render to them.
    First because it is quite simply false. The servers of myspace.com and co are managed by adults and belong to an economy which does not have anything has to see with the problems of teenagers.
    Second : it is a bad service because it builds a digital NeverLand in which the law and the responsibility would not be those of the adults.

    It is a thing which the teenagers find the interstices of the culture to build against-spaces (which will become banal space a generation later). Iit is another to build a kind of reserve letting them think that they are out of the work of transmission of the culture.

    Danah, how do you imagine theses digital street workers ?

  • [i agree with you dana]
    [bullying happens everywhere and under all forms]
    [blaming technology is quite an escape from a much deeper painful discussion]
    [relationships]
    [friends & friends, parents & kids, school buddies, co-workers and so on]
    [i've posted a link of your text on my blog]
    [guta [from Brazil]

  • [i agree with you dana]
    [bullying happens everywhere and under all forms]
    [blaming technology is quite an escape from a much deeper painful discussion]
    [relationships]
    [friends & friends, parents & kids, school buddies, co-workers and so on]
    [i've posted a link of your text on my blog]
    [guta [from Brazil]

  • Hi Danah,

    What’s your source for the claim that most bullying is reciprocal?

    That was not my experience as a teenager.

    Maybe you mean most “nasty behaviour” is reciprocal?

    Steven.

  • Steven & Alan -

    For studies of online harassment, I would check out the work of Michele Ybarra at ISK. She has multiple studies over the years on overlap of Internet and offline harasser and harasee.

    Qing Li at University of Calgary also has a series of studies that show the overlap of bully/victim behaviors.

    Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin focus more specifically on the factors of online harassment only.

    Both of these scholars also show the strong overlap between bullying/being bullied and a series of other psychosocial factors.

    I don’t provide numbers because they range wildly across studies, primarily because the definition of “bullying” is very unclear. But when we talk about bullying online, we usually include all of the vicious gossip-mongering and hateful rumors that get spread. Although I haven’t seen the actual numbers, I suspect that bullying between girls is far more reciprocal than between boys.

  • In the case of the 8 year old who shot and killed his father and another man, he reportedly “told a state Child Protective Services worker that his 1,000th spanking would be his last.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081130/ap_on_re_us/child_charged;_ylt=AjjOFScYgBpUjBLeOitnRR5vzwcF

    If he had someone to talk to about that, someone who would listen and do something effective, maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to do what he did.

  • I think an earlier comment may have got lost in spam filters for including a couple of links…

    I just wanted to share a pointer to work we’ve been doing in the UK as part of the Youth Work and Social Networking project to explore the practicalities of ‘online detached youth work’ which is effectively the form of online street work you call for in the post above.

    We’ve been looking at how the existing statutory sector youth work workforce in England (who come from an informal education sector background rather than faith or health based settings) could be equipped to take on an online outreach role, or could support young people as peer-support-workers in the online space.

    Details should crop up from a search on Youth Work and Social Networking where a full research report is available from the project blog.

    Would be great to hear about any practice already exploring the idea of ‘online social workers’ in the US and elsewhere, as we’re just starting to put together a programme of training and capacity building around this of the back of the Youth Work and Social Networking research.

  • TjL

    In 18 years of working with children and youth in several different situations and states, I’ve never seen anything like “mutual bullying” with either girls or boys.

    Perhaps it is, as you suggest in the comments, a problem of definition, but my understanding and perception of “bullying” has always been one “stronger” person picking on a “weaker” one (speaking in generalities: with boys, stronger physically; with girls, stronger socially.)

    I wouldn’t consider two people who were once friends and then stopped to be “bullying” as much as “fighting” but again now perhaps “definitions” get murky.

    With bullying you are more likely to see a period of “taking it” followed (sometimes, rarely) with a breaking point of fighting back (which might include an escalation to use of a weapon).

    I think I’d question the wisdom of any definition of bullying that didn’t take that “power differential” into account.

    I would consider it a very safe bet that there is a lot more “stronger vs weaker” bullying than reciprocal, which makes the line “it is uber important for parents to understand that most bullying is reciprocal” seem like an overstatement.

    Stylistically, I wouldn’t use “uber” which strikes me as far too informal and casual for the topic at hand.

    More importantly, I don’t think it’s a defensible statement that “most” bullying is that way, unless you can link to some fairly conclusive studies by more than 1 or 2 people.

    All of that being said: I think the article is an important one, and does illustrate the extreme and unusual characteristics of this case.

  • Agree with every word.

    Just found this (which I think agrees with your findings)
    http://www.bullying.co.uk/young_people/National_Bullying_Survey_2006/Pupils.aspx
    In a national UK survey, 69% of young people reported being bullying, but only 7% reported cyberbullying.
    Most kids I know will tell you they can handle the internet, its school toilets they are worried about. The problem is, you can’t legislate against the balder. I agree about internet youth workers. The problem of course is that they would need to be paid. Fearmongering is cheap, solving real problems is expensive. No wonder politicians get high on cyberbullying.

    other than that, could it be yet another way to control kids and limit their internet freedoms?

    One more thing: cyberbullying is easier to track and tackle that the real-world version. Who was that guy that wrote a 100 line script and caught a predator? Likewise, providing help on-line is much easier. If anything, we should encourage kids to go on-line so they can find support for dealing with real-world bullies.

  • TjL – almost all studies include former friends in their definition of bullying. Even the Megan Meier case is shaped by that – Drew’s daughter and Meier were former best friends. But your point highlights why reciprocity is so common in these studies – a great deal of bullying comes from friends. Wolak, Mitchell, and Finkelhor found that almost half of online bullying comes from people that the victims identified as an offline friend. With offline bullying (which is more prominent), this number is likely to be much higher.

    I’m intentionally not pegging down a number because I don’t have one; I’m mixing my experiences in fieldwork with the inconsistent data that I’ve been seeing. I’ve been interviewing teens and tweens about bullying for three years and I was surprised by how common it is for youth to believe that they must “fight back” rather than report the bullying. Few teens think that telling an adult will do any good. Many that I interviewed believed that they had to stand up for themselves. Perhaps reciprocal is the wrong word because often the bullying will shift forms when teens try to fight back. For example, a public embarrassment may prompt the spreading of rumors.

    You are right that power is involved, but social status is not stable. When it comes to girls, bullying is often connected with status battles, but it is not simply the high-status girls picking on the low-status girls. Often, it’s girls who are friends (and likely of the same-status) attacking one another to achieve validation more broadly. In my fieldwork, the most common bullying occurred between teen girls who are effectively mid-level in status. With boys, it was much more likely to be high-status boys picking on low-status boys, often in groups. Yet, sadly, I found that low-status boys tended to either shut down completely and accept ongoing torment or get angry and fight back (often prompting more torment). My guess is that this group is the least likely to report.

    Much more research is needed into this topic. We need a combination of quantitative and qualitative studies because we all know that survey studies are getting low reporting and it’s often difficult to get a measure of the context. We also have little data on how often authorities are involved. And we have no good language for accounting for the different types of harm typically included under “bullying” (which is what makes discussions like this difficult). There’s so much work needed in this area and, while there are tremendous researchers involved, they’re mostly focused on specific slices of the issue.

    When referencing research in this post, I was intentionally try to be informal. My apologies if you expected otherwise. I’m trying to push through common assumptions that don’t appear to be panning out in research. I didn’t mean for this to derail the point of my post and perhaps I’m being too flippant in making broad sweeping statements. Perhaps “many” would’ve been better. But at the end of the day, we don’t know. What we do know is that quantitatively, we’re seeing a pattern of friend-based harassment and qualitatively, we’re seeing a lot of “fighting back” and too little reporting. Yet, at the end of the day, what we know is that kids are hurting and they have very few trusted adults to turn to or resources for support.

    Also, if you’re coming to this post from elsewhere, you might not have seen the Literature Review that I posted last week: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/isttf/RAB This is a LitReview of online safety-related research where you can find many citations on this topic. The review itself focuses solely on Internet-based bullying, but if you are interested in learning more, you can follow the citations; many of those studies refer to studies that focus on offline harassment. The LitReview doesn’t address this concern, but it does address many different issues of online harassment.

  • modernhypatia

    Re: the bullying going both ways – I highly recommend Rachel Simmons’ work – _Odd Girl Out_ focuses on what she defines as relational aggression. She points out (through some fairly concrete research in a range of schools/communities) that there are patterns that definitely *are* bullying, but haven’t been traditionally defined that way.

    I got to hear her speak at a conference a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me afterwards that online settings tend to make relational bullying (which is traditionally more common among girls – the “You did something mean to so and so, I don’t want to be your friend” or ostracism, etc.) more common online, but also among boys.

    I don’t have cites on this – but it definitely matches up with my experiences helping handle terms of service/forum issues on various sites over the years. There’s a lot less physical threats/bullying/violence, and a lot more “I’m going to turn our social circle against you” kinds of threats/manipulation.

  • Lori Drew’s case is about cyberbullying, which is behavior for which society has little tolerance. Cyberbullying is poison for anyone it touches. An institution like Myspace — or a library or a school, which provides patrons, students or guests access to the Internet — has plentiful incentive to stamp out cyberbullying within its system and its PCs. –Ben

  • Sharon

    I just have to chime in here, as a mother of two children who were bullied, and a person who was bullied herself.

    I commend you on your work with this issue, but I think it’s wildly irresponsible to state “most bullying is reciprocal.” One of my children was bullied for years, by entire groups of people, until I pulled her out of the school system. It was anything but reciprocal. My other child was bullied as well, although less severely, by a neighbor kid who bullied everyone, even adults who were unfortunate enough to get within ten feet.

    After reading around about this particular case, I’m struck by how little attention is paid to the bullying that Sarah Drew claims she experienced. Looking at her photo, and her mother’s, I would guess they were subjected to a lot of fat-bashing, at the very least.

    So, I have some sympathy for Lori Drew wanting to stick up for her kid. If only she’d tried to reach out and pull them together instead – sounds like Megan had weight issues, too, and she and Sarah could have bonded against the onslaught rather than succumbed to it.

    And, while I can only imagine the pain Megan’s family will have to live with forever, it seems possible to me, even likely, that Megan would have attempted suicide at some point during her adolescence. So, to me, that’s not really the issue here.

    Years ago, I finally got in a huge fight with the kid (and his mother) who tortured my kids for so long (he’d even harassed one tenant until she almost moved out!). Not long after, I humiliated this 17-18 year old kid in school – not intentionally, but by questioning him in front of his friends – and the bullying finally stopped. For my kids, at least.

    I only wish I’d done these things years sooner. I feel I could have saved my children so much anguish had I not been a coward for so long. Once in a while I hear about parents who come down hard on bullies and save their kids a lot of grief. This can also serve as a model for the kids to not accept bad behavior.

    So, do I think what they did to Megan is okay? No, because it was sneaky and dishonest and all about revenge rather than resolution. Do I understand? You bet. I think bullying is the number one problem kids face – I think it underlies most of the early sexual behavior of girls, and lots of alcohol and drug abuse. And I think sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

    And, as far as what to do about it, it begins in the schools and that’s where it should be tackled first and foremost. Actually, it may very well begin in the home, and then spread to the schools, but I’m not sure if it can effectively be curtailed at that level. I may be wrong, but my gut tells me if kids don’t spend 6-8 hours a day in a totally antagonistic, profoundly demoralizing environment, they won’t need to spend another 6 or 8 hours venting it all online.

    Sorry for the rant, but this really struck a chord with me. I will never forget the tortured looks on the faces of so many of the kids I saw in school as mine were growing up. Such a truly great and smart country we are, and what a dirty little secret.

  • Mickey Moose

    As far as I’m concerned, that little girl had it coming. I’m glad she committed suicide. Praise to Lori Drew.

  • slippyshoe

    Agree with:
    clearly the result of prosecutors wanting to get her on anything. Put yourself in their shoes, this cannot go un-answered, especially given that the internet can and does erupt into the real world, not only on a case by case basis i.e. this tragic incident, but also the very nature of the fact that the internet was involved in the tragedy makes it even more ‘viral’ (need better word) and necessitates some kind of answer.

    Disagree with:
    realistically, she should’ve been tried with child abuse. As you stated yourself, this is a problematic approach. If it would not likely result in conviction, then why waste the court’s time?

    I also second the comments to the effect that bullying is not necessarily reciprocal. I think you’re basing the ‘reciprocal’ claim on the appearance of the players involved: well kept middle class girls. This is not enough to substantiate the claim that the bullying was reciprocal, nor does it account for the extremely hateful measures that were taken against Megan, nor does it account for the fact that Megan buckled under the hate.

    I think the real beef you have, and maybe you already said it in so many words, is the fact that technology looks bad when it’s used as the basis for criminal prosecutions. Keyboards, Computers, MySpace, electrons, were all used to kill someone but I think everyone can tell the difference between the tool and the person wielding it.

  • I am reminded of an incident a few years back where a few teenagers were bullied and eventually made a plan to “fight back”, using bombs, guns and home-made napalm.

    http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=498353

    http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=498527

    I remember a comment thread about it online (on yahoo before they stopped having comments on news stories), where many of the commenters were willing to blame the victims for being bullied. I remember one in particular where he said that the thing to do when you are bullied is to “fight back” and “hard”. I replied that how much harder can you get than guns, bombs and napalm? He spluttered back (hard to do online, but it was pretty obvious that he was completely taken aback that the precise action he advocated was exactly what these children were doing) that that wasn’t what he meant.

    The legal system isn’t configured to handle cases of bullying. We should change it so that it is; something as simple as making it a criminal offense to bully someone until they attempt suicide. That would clearly be applicable in the Lori Drew case. Would it cause more harm than good? Would more children attempt suicide to “get back” at their bullies? Maybe, but it would put more power in the hands of the victims.

    I think the data is quite clear that most bullies have been bullied themselves. There isn’t necessarily a one-to-one relationship of back-and-forth bullying between a particular perpetrator and a particular victim, but the pattern of abuse flowing down a pecking order is pretty well established.

    I think the data on the cycle of violence is quite clear, that virtually all extremely violent individuals were victims of abuse. Not every victim of abuse becomes violent, but essentially every violent individual was abused (see for example Twemlaw’s paper)

    http://www.backoffbully.com/PDF%20files/Premeditated_Mass_Shootings_in_Schools.pdf

  • As usual very interesting post.
    I think that the problem with this case was that in technology you can hide.
    You can create your own fake identity and that is the problem.
    Without my space it is more likely that Lori Drew wouldn’t have the opportunity to get in touch with Megan.

  • Steve

    I agree wit5h Tjl and those others who criticize the “bullying is reciprocal” statement.

    First, as has been noted, we are looking at something of a definitional shift. When I was a teen/preteen in the late fifties and early sixties, the noun “bullying” was not frequently used. We would refer to a “bully” who was a stronger and meaner kid who harrassed kids weaker than himself. My hypothesis, looking back, is that most of these individuals (always male – female bullies may have existed, but were not acknowledged) were victims of physical abuse in the home.

    One activity which is often referred to as “bullying” today is what we called “picking on” or “being picked on” which normally involved a social clique and/or individual wanabees/imitators harassing one or a small number of designated targets.

    Having been one of the designated targets, I can tell you there was nothing reciprocal about it. I was never a fighter, and had only the most abstract knowledge of physical self-defense. I even had to be told not to wrap my fingers around my thumb when making a fist.

    But one day, after some years of misery, I proverbially “saw red” and punched a kid two years older and a fair amount bigger (he was a football player) in the nose.

    Had it been a large urban school in today’s world, this act of self-defense would have gotten *me* punished (blaming the victim for defending themself in these cases is rampant – and unfortunately the paradigm of “reciprocal bullying” will encourage that problem). As it happened, in our small-town school in a more common-sensical time, we were immediately separated, and nothing more was said or done. The ultimate outcome was that people in our small school quickly learned that I had bloodied this fellow’s nose, and they left me alone.

    Now admittedly there is a lot of reciprocal conflict that goes on. I think it’s a real stretch to characterize most of it as “bullying”, even if social researchers like to do so.

    Q. How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg?

    A. Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

    (Attributed to A. Lincoln)

    When a teen and their “posse” goes after another teen, who also can summon up a posse, this is feuding, or perhaps gang warfare (depending on issues of class, venue, and armament). But I’d submit it is quite a different phenomenon than bullying or picking on, not least because there is a rough parity of power between the combatants.

    Let’s face it, There are plenty of problems with teen violence to be addressed, but if what we call these things doesn’t at least roughly reflect the natural division into different kinds of phenomena, then proposed programs to address the issue(s) will be flawed accordingly.

    Just a thought,
    -Steve

  • I think that the problem with this case was that in technology you can hide.
    You can create your own fake identity and that is the problem.

  • I agree in part and disagree in part with messengerfx. The fact that the “Josh Evans” identity was fake would not be a problem in itself. The problem started when that identity was fraudulently passed off as a real person. I don’t think it’s possible to examine the situation completely without that in mind. Was that source of the bullying – a person that Megan thought she knew and trusted, one that was specifically invented to gain her trust – an aggravating factor in the suicide?

  • I think the focus on modern technology is only because it leaves a record that can be examined after a child commits suicide. The rates of suicide haven’t changed very much in the last 25 years; rate/100k population age group 10-19. If anything they have gone down a slight amount.

    (from http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html)

    1981 4.98
    1982 5.06
    1983 5.02
    1984 5.27
    1985 5.94
    1986 6.08
    1987 6.14
    1988 6.56
    1989 6.43
    1990 6.40
    1991 6.18
    1992 6.06
    1993 6.08
    1994 6.14
    1995 5.91
    1996 5.51
    1997 5.40
    1998 5.18
    1999 4.61
    2000 4.71
    2001 4.57
    2002 4.28
    2003 4.16
    2004 4.74
    2005 4.50

    If the rates haven’t changed much (or have gone down), then the “new” suicides related to cyber bullying are not “new”, they are simply shifted from what would have been suicides from old-fashioned bullying in years past. Suicides that were not attributed to the old-fashioned bullying because it leaves no record that can be accessed retrospectively. Many adults are completely blind to the bullying that goes on, so without a hard record of bullying behavior they blame the victim, especially when those adults were in a position to stop the bullying and did not, such as school officials.

  • K

    The relationship between being bullied and becoming a bully tends to occur over time, not simultaneously. I think that’s the point that needs to be made – it’s reciprocal, but not simultaneous. If you’re bullied, and eventually you regain enough confidence and social status that you have the opportunity to bully in return, you will frequently take it.

    What we need are not necessarily adults patrolling the internet or the school or whatever, what we need to do is focus on the one person who not only has tremendous power to make a difference, but on who the affect of bullying often goes unnoticed – the bystander.

    Bystanders are frequently afraid to step in because they don’t want to be the one bullied. We need to educate them that stepping in and saying that bullying is unacceptable is the right thing to do. Just as “only you can prevent forest fires,” only you can stop bullying. If we all do it, no one has to experience it, and kids can express their need for power by standing up for others rather than pushing others down.

    It should be part of elementary and middle school health class. Bully education. Someone can come up with the equivalent of Just say no or stop drop and roll. Should be simple, we just have to get it through enough boards of Ed.

  • slippyshoe

    I think this bullying thing is interesting. I saw an underrated film not too long ago that I think relates. It has nothing to do with myspace or technology but everything to do with the kind of people who perpetuate the problem, and the kind of people who leave it behind them.
    Ridicule (1996) directed by Patrice Leconte.

  • I learned a few, very important lessons from bullies when I was growing up a long time ago on mean streets in New York City:
    1. Bullies and bullying have been around forever. Big kids pick on little kids. Strong kids pick on weak kids. Groups of kids pick on those who are different. That’s natural and will go on forever. That’s the way life is even after you grow up. As a society, we will do all we can to stop it, but more important, it’s my job as an individual to create a bully-free environment no matter what the other adults or society do. I think of it as “Creating an isle of song in a sea of shouts” (Rabindranath Tagore).

    2. Schools have never been safe. I remember a biography of Harpo Marx (remember the Marx Brothers). He went to school for one day. The kids threw him out the window (first floor). He came back in. They threw him out again. After the third time he didn’t go back in. And never did again.

    3. Schools are testing grounds for the real world. They present us with situations in response to which we can develop strength of character, resilience and skill. Imagine growing up on a farm, in a war zone or in the middle ages. Not safe. I grew up in New York City. Not safe.

    4. There are no safe environments. That was the message I always got from reading the great hero stories when I was growing up. And each tale challenged me to prepare myself for similar dangers.

    We have to learn (as individuals and with whatever help we can get) how to stop bullies. Imagine a staircase. At the bottom you try talking and asking bullies to stop. Or you make jokes. If that doesn’t stop them, and it never does with true bullies, you keep moving up the staircase until you stop them. Like some of the comments already pointed out, you may have to fight. So fight to win. The bully will show you what you have to do to stop him or her.

    Whenever there’s a new technology, bullies simply have a new tactic to use. Our society slowly adjusts and makes laws to outlaw most of the bullying. We’re in that phase now with cyberbullying.

    Of course, a major part of the problem are the parents who don’t pay attention or who don’t stop their children or who protect their darling little bullies. Just like Lucius Malfoy protects his darling Draco in the Harry Potter series. Of course, parents can’t see it 100 percent of the time, but when they do they’re supposed to have enough character to stop their children.

    Lori Drew didn’t teach good character to her daughter or to the friends. The parents of the friends didn’t either. Megan’s parents didn’t teach her to be resilient. Not all parents can and not all kids will learn.

    Bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find ways to stop most of them. Sometimes, fighting is the key to success. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

    When children learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they will have developed strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they’ll face as adults.

    Disclosure: In addition to having six children, I’m a practical, pragmatic coach and consultant. Check out my website and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com). I’ve written books like “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids”. I’ve also written many posts on my blog about developing resilient kids.

    Best wishes,
    Ben

  • I learned a few, very important lessons from bullies when I was growing up a long time ago on mean streets in New York City:
    1. Bullies and bullying have been around forever. Big kids pick on little kids. Strong kids pick on weak kids. Groups of kids pick on those who are different. That’s natural and will go on forever. That’s the way life is even after you grow up. As a society, we will do all we can to stop it, but more important, it’s my job as an individual to create a bully-free environment no matter what the other adults or society do. I think of it as “Creating an isle of song in a sea of shouts” (Rabindranath Tagore).

    2. Schools have never been safe. I remember a biography of Harpo Marx (remember the Marx Brothers). He went to school for one day. The kids threw him out the window (first floor). He came back in. They threw him out again. After the third time he didn’t go back in. And never did again.

    3. Schools are testing grounds for the real world. They present us with situations in response to which we can develop strength of character, resilience and skill. Imagine growing up on a farm, in a war zone or in the middle ages. Not safe. I grew up in New York City. Not safe.

    4. There are no safe environments. That was the message I always got from reading the great hero stories when I was growing up. And each tale challenged me to prepare myself for similar dangers.

    We have to learn (as individuals and with whatever help we can get) how to stop bullies. Imagine a staircase. At the bottom you try talking and asking bullies to stop. Or you make jokes. If that doesn’t stop them, and it never does with true bullies, you keep moving up the staircase until you stop them. Like some of the comments already pointed out, you may have to fight. So fight to win. The bully will show you what you have to do to stop him or her.

    Whenever there’s a new technology, bullies simply have a new tactic to use. Our society slowly adjusts and makes laws to outlaw most of the bullying. We’re in that phase now with cyberbullying.

    Of course, a major part of the problem are the parents who don’t pay attention or who don’t stop their children or who protect their darling little bullies. Just like Lucius Malfoy protects his darling Draco in the Harry Potter series. Of course, parents can’t see it 100 percent of the time, but when they do they’re supposed to have enough character to stop their children.

    Lori Drew didn’t teach good character to her daughter or to the friends. The parents of the friends didn’t either. Megan’s parents didn’t teach her to be resilient. Not all parents can and not all kids will learn.

    Bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find ways to stop most of them. Sometimes, fighting is the key to success. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

    When children learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they will have developed strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they’ll face as adults.

    Disclosure: In addition to having six children, I’m a practical, pragmatic coach and consultant. Check out my website and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com). I’ve written books like “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids”. I’ve also written many posts on my blog about developing resilient kids.

    Best wishes,
    Ben

  • Marc

    It seems to me that the whole point here is that an adult parent got involved in her daughters life. Although Drew’s involvement may not have been in a positive manner, she was involved. On the flip side of that, where was Megan’s parents? I am not saying that Drew did nothing wrong. She absolutely did!! However, and I am just throwing this out there for thought, if Megan’s parents would have been a little more involved in her life, maybe they would have realized their daughter was crying out for help. Maybe they would have realized that their daughter was in essence doing the same as Drew. Both of these individuals were misrepresenting themselves. Megan was not old enough to even have a MySpace profile (see Terms of Use). Drew had no business doing the same. In this instance, Drew did have the benefit of knowing Megan. What happens when they two individuals have no clue of the “real” person?

    Just a little food for thought, but what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. The good suffer for the bad. We all learned these lessons as children, and should be taught to todays youth as well. It seems to me that everyone wants to point the finger else where these days.

    Take a good look America. These are the future leaders of our nation! They lie, they cheat, and they steal all the while seldom suffering any consequence.

  • Barbie

    sorry to read this so late and comment, but that lateness may provide a bit of perspective.

    I think this reads more as a post promoting the use of computer networks/technology than as a plea to curtail bullies and bullying. The extent to which it tries to distances itself from Drew seems extravagant — almost as though crucifying Drew is a rather sensational (and perhaps exploitative) means to position new technologies and networks(eg Myspace) as socially beneficially.

    Proper levels of privacy and anonymity in conventional social contexts have had a long history of debate, resulting in a fairly complex series of rules and regulations (some legally binding, others not) regarding slander, libel, defamation, and such.

    Many users of online networks — including those who wish to manufacture and sell online social networks (ie virtual “world” proponents) — have found the privacy and anonymity within those networks appealing. The extent to which this privacy and anonymity can be used to mask (and perhaps even motivate) untoward behaviors online needs to be examined with the same sort of seriousness that as this has been examined offline. I don’t think this article really does that. In fact, it seems to do rather than opposite: expunge entirely the manner in which online communications is implemented and functions.

  • JCW

    I think a lot of people misunderstand the meaning of the term “bullying”, and take the ultimate end result of a damaged victim as its only definition. I have been bullied myself and do not consider myself to be in any way responsible, but I agree with danah boyd’s assertions that in most cases the “bullying” goes both ways. This is simply because bullying isn’t just about one person being victimized, it’s also often about fighting between two people, and their attempts to increase social status/feel validated (at least, that’s how it can start).

    In short, it’s very common for insecure people to “bite back”, if they’ve been “bitten:, hoping to put the matter to rest, when instead they just perpetuate/escalate the situation. (How many of us would consider ourselves to be “bullying” someone who we felt had already attacked us?) In reality, having a healthy amount of self-esteem would not necessitate the need to fight back, and would also allow us to rise above such attacks.

    For example, in the Lori Drew case, the entire situation was sparked off by the fear that her ex-friend was insulting her behind her back, and this was no doubt used as justification to continue in the bullyer’s minds, too.
    Which is not to say that the person who could ultimately be victimized by a situation like this is to blame!

    I think bullying is defined when this “insecure power-play” turns damaging to one or both of the people involved, but by the time it’s recognised as a serious problem, it’s usually just turned into a very one-sided situation.

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