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Posted: September 26, 2010 12:30 a.m.

The menace of Cyber Bullying

Photo Illustration By Brittany Thomas/

In this day and age of increasing technology use among children, bullying that used to take place in the schoolyard has now moved to places like Facebook, Twitter, online chatrooms and cell phone instant messages.

When Leslie first moved to Newton County from her small Midwestern hometown, her biggest concern was leaving the friends she had grown up with. She never guessed that finding friends here would be as much heartbreak as it has turned out to be.

"I have zero friends," the 15-year-old, whose last name was withheld to protect her from further bullying, said in a telephone conversation earlier this month. "And it's not like I had these friends and we got into a fight or anything. I just have never had them here. Kids make fun of everything about me."

Leslie said that she is mocked for her hair, her accent, the way she dresses, even for the picture of her boyfriend (who lives in her hometown) that she keeps with her at all times.
"I used to be popular but now I get all these texts about how ugly I am and how I need to go back to where I'm from," she said. "But they aren't saying it nice like that at all. They're cussing and stuff."

Leslie's case isn't an isolated one. With the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and the increase in teenagers with cell phones, bullying has gone from taunting on the bus and in the hallways to vicious texts and wall posts. And although the Newton County School System has a strict policy against bullying, students are hesitant to tell on one another or to admit to adults that they are having problems like this at all. It's called "cyber bullying" and it is happening more often than parents and teachers know, according to several students who refused to be identified for fear of even more harassment.

"I try to shake it off," said Leslie. "Like, I try to ignore it at school, ‘cause the kids will sometimes say things to me, like under their breath. But when I'm at home and my phone is constantly going off and it's all this crap about how ugly I am and how they're going to beat me up and stuff. It just sucks."

Cyber bulling isn't new, but it's just starting to become more recognized by adults, especially since the 2006 suicide in Missouri of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who killed herself as aresult of cyber bullying. A bill pending in Congress, the Megan Meier Cyber Bullying Prevention Act, is gaining momentum as more stories about the potentially deadly results of cyber bulling arise. Earlier this year 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who had recently moved from Ireland to Massachusetts, killed herself after being a victim of cyber bullies.

For 13-year-old Tiffany, it's all about a boy, according to her, a boy she doesn't like and who "isn't even cute."
"I started talking to this guy but we weren't even talking like that," she said in an e-mail, indicating that although they were speaking on friendly terms, she wasn't romantically interested in him. "But he was in some of my classes and he seemed alright. I knew he had a girlfriend but that was fine because we were just friends...but then she got all mad at me, thinking I was trying to steal her boyfriend. Even though I've told her a bunch of times that it isn't like that, she still won't believe me. And now all of her friends are talking about me too."
Tiffany, whose real name was withheld, said that she had to delete one Facebook account and change her phone number once because of the harassment and that every time she logged on there were messages from other girls calling her names.

"I told her boyfriend to tell her that we were just friends, but she doesn't believe him," said Tiffany. "I told my mom about it, but I don't want to tell the school because I don't want to have any more drama."

Georgia lawmakers passed a law during the last legislative session that redefined "bullying" for the purposes of school disciplinary action, according to Newton County School System Director of Public Relations Sherri Davis-Viniard. Because that definition was changed after student handbooks had already gone out and parents had already signed the disciplinary code of conduct, a copy of the new definition of bullying has gone out to all parents of Newton County students. There are consequences for each incident of bullying, including in-school suspension and a tribunal.

For Tiffany's mother, going to an administrator about the cyber bullying her daughter is receiving isn't an option, even if those doing the bullying could potentially be punished for it.

"It would just make it worse," she explained. "It will eventually blow over, I'm sure, and going to the principal is just giving those girls more ammunition to go after my daughter."

According to Newton County Sheriff's Office Investigator Sharron Stewart, the county has no law against bullying, but cyber bullying can fall under other crimes, such as terroristic threats or stalking.

"Sometimes juveniles think they can do anything and get away with it because they are juveniles," said Stewart. "But we will prosecute juveniles as well. Cyber bullying is certainly not something that will be tolerated by the Newton County Sheriff's Office or the District Attorney's Office."

Detective Daniel Seals with the Covington Police Department echoed Stewart's statements, saying the department didn't see many cases of cyber bullying, but that five years ago, they didn't see cases involving cyber bullying at all. Both Stewart and Seals said that many students may not want to tell their parents and they certainly don't want to bring it to law enforcement for fear of making things worse.

That is certainly the case with 17-year-old Jason, whose identity was withheld, who said that his parents don't know it goes on and he doesn't want them to know.

"If they knew, they would go to the school cause that's just how they are," he said earlier this month. "But it doesn't really even bother me anymore. I mean, I know that most people don't like me, so when I get texts saying that people hate me, it isn't like it's a huge surprise: I hear it all day long.

"When I get people posting things online about me, I just delete it. Sometimes it bothers me a little, but not a lot because I know the people who make fun of me do it because they're losers. Who makes fun of someone because they're smart? Who makes fun of people because they like to study? People who have nothing better to do than watch MTV and talk bad about everyone else. Everyone is miserable in high school. I'm almost done with it and I think even though I get made fun of all the time, I am probably the least miserable of everyone there. I don't have friends, but when these kids are pumping my gas one day, it won't matter what they said about me in high school."

According to the NCSS, proof of electronic bullying can be brought to school administrators who will address the situation, but students have to come forward about the abuse in order for that to take place.

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