Most of us remember the school yard chant "Stick and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me." I guess as children we believed that but most of us realized, through life experiences, that words can not only hurt us...they can kill.
The most heart breaking and shocking incident of the harm cyber bullies can cause is the case of Megan Meier. Megan was a child, a thirteen year old girl with hopes and dreams and a child's insecurities and vulnerabilities. She had battled a weight problem and ADD but there was a new bright light in her life. She had lost 20 pounds, her fourteenth birthday was approaching and most of all she had met "Josh."
"Josh" was the boy of her dreams. They met online and he was perfect. He was cute. He played the guitar. Most of all he accepted her. For six weeks her cyber relationship with Josh was life changing. He thought she was pretty. No doubt she felt pretty and in fact she was a very beautiful little girl.
As quickly as everything had begun it all came crashing down. His posts to her turned dark and mean. He didn't want to be her friend. He wished her a shi**y life and told her the world would be a better place without her.
The little girl who had found something so beautiful to believe in...believing in herself and believing she was accepted crashed down like a chandelier. Fragile and shattered she ran to her bedroom, fashioned a noose from a cloth belt and hanged herself in her closet. She died the next day.
The boy who had broken her spirit was not a boy at all. He was a fictitious creation of a cyber bully, a mother of a former friend, a neighbor. The neighbor had spent six weeks feeding Megan's fragile little girl ego only to bring her crashing down and with her words she did break bones.
Having been a member of some online support forums for Alzheimer's care givers and persons who have lost someone to suicide I can attest to the damage a cyber bully can cause. We are all fragile in different ways and at different phases in our lives. Whether we are a starry eyed teen who is enamored by a cyber boyfriend or a bone weary care giver who is feeling isolated, disheartened, physically spent and desperate we all have our tipping point.
Over a period of a few years I tried to give back to the Alzheimers support community by being an active online member of the Alzheimers Association member's forum. Hours were spent trying to be supportive of those who were traveling a path I had completed when my father died in 2002. The friendships were mighty and the sense of giving back was gratifying.
There was a cyber bully there too. It would seem an unlikely place for someone to go to "agitate and intimidate" (his words from his online blog) and yet it does make sense. It is the emotionally delicate who make a good target. Internet bullies are looking for an effect. Certainly finding a forum with thousands of members and a world wide audience makes a great stage. Those who stood up to his insults and attempts to create discord were banned from the forum (myself included). He told those who could find nothing to hold to that they were not fit to be care givers. He even made a point of discussing my brother's suicide and suggesting I could have and should have prevented it. The bully? He remains.
We live in a society that loves to build someone up and tear them back down. We see it with celebrities but perhaps it is just as common here in our real world and the availability of a world wide stage, given the internet it has reached a new low. What was once a bully on a playground or a neighborhood oddball who delighted in taunting those unfortunate enough to cross his path are now finding themselves in the cross hairs of their cyber bullying for sport.
Can it ever go back to the way it once was? No. The internet is here to stay as are those who will use it to do harm. Megan's suicide has began a movement to have cyber bullying made illegal. It is only a tiny step forward but it is step which must be taken. Hiding in the shadows online and using the anonymity as a means of inflicting emotional pain must be dealt with. For Megan's family it will be the second Christmas without the little girl who was a shining star in their lives. For the woman who perpetrated the online hoax it is life in the spotlight of all who know the truth. For a tiny town of Dardenne
Prairie Missouri it is a new law which makes such evil acts illegal.