Hummer: Minimize your online presence, minimize cyberbullying

Thomas Hummer

With all that’s happened over the past five years, it isn’t hard to see why people have been adopting a rather pessimistic worldview. Reports of police brutality and government injustice have been more prominent than ever within our country, not to mention myriad of international news that would be too much to address in this article.

One specific problem that has been on the rise is cyberbullying. Every year we hear about cases of children and teens driven to suicide by the cruel treatment they receive online. In 2010, the tragic story of Tyler Clementi reminded us that the respect of others and their privacy is something to be taken seriously.

But the truth is that bullying is nothing new. Most of us — or at least the scrawny, red-headed bookworms like myself — can remember being picked on during our youth, and most of us turned out just fine. I can vividly remember the conversation I had with my parents when they told me how to handle these situations, and I know that many others had a similar talk.

Of course, the obvious difference between playground bullies and cyberbullies is the medium. When you’re at school, you’re with the same people every day and it’s easy to keep straight who you have to worry about and who’s going to be friendly. On the Internet, anyone and everyone can look at what you say or who you are, and comment on it. It’s a vulnerable means of self-exposure, and that same “share yourself with the world” allure is exactly what makes it so dangerous. With anonymity being so easily attained, it’s plausible that people are more willing to be vicious online than in person. All this creates a hostile environment for impressionable youth, as proven by the many accounts of cyberbullying during these past years.

But does the fact that we hear about it more mean that it’s actually happening more? Bullying, along with my earlier examples of police brutality and injustice, have been occurring for centuries. If anything, the fact that we’re actually able to account for, report on, and expose many of these terrible events should be uplifting. It’s raising the awareness of our nation’s people, and even though the news itself may be depressing, that knowledge is a beneficial and powerful. What we need to do is keep at it and make sure that the government doesn’t impede our ability to do so.

Obviously cyberbullying hasn’t been around for centuries, but it’s just a new method of doing something that isn’t new at all. Just like any technological advancement, there are pros and cons, and we have to acknowledge that and try to adapt accordingly.

We’re never going to be able to stop bullying, of any kind, but we can try to minimize it. Maybe the best way is for parents to amend the “bullying talk” by adding, “By the way, never put your thoughts and feelings online, that’s what diaries are for. Oh, we’re also forbidding you to have a Facebook until you’re in college. You’re welcome.” This obviously gets harder and harder to monitor since being online has gotten easier for kids, but let’s face it — parenting has never been easy. And so far, I don’t think, “You can put embarrassing videos of yourself on YouTube dancing to Hannah Montana and Rihanna as long as you disable commenting,” is quite cutting it.