So you've probably heard of Rebecca Black by now, if not watched the 13-year-old viral sensation's auto-tuned music video "Friday." If you found it laughably bad, even gave it a big fat "thumbs down" on YouTube, don't feel bad. Not liking a teenage girl's music doesn't make you a cyberbully -- even if she tells the world it does.
It's true that Black has gotten a LOT of mean comments about her video. And by a lot I mean entire blog posts, and thousands of comments and "dislikes" on her video. Black's whining should be expected; she's a teenage girl, and hurtful comments are hard to take even when you're an adult. But it's been grating on my nerves this week for one simple reason. She's downplaying the suffering of the real victims of cyberbullying out there.
Cyberbullying is serious business. And when two parents put their kid on the Internet in a public forum like YouTube, they have to realize there's a difference between people being mean and people being bullies.
Because, let me let YOU in on a little secret, parents. The interwebs are chock-full of mean people. Hideously mean. Some of the darkest souls are poking around the web, just waiting to pounce. I've written on the Internet for years and encountered all types. I'd wager based simply on personal experience that for every normal person using the Internet to get news, catch up with friends, and find a laugh, there are two more just waiting to say something nasty because they CAN.
Even better, they can do it anonymously, and relish in the knowledge that you two will probably never meet. So they move on. They find another victim. They rarely follow it up with more than one comment, and they don't get truly personal because they can't.
Those are the people making fun of Rebecca Black's video. People who don't know her. People who have encountered her video posted for the world to see on YouTube, and decided to offer their two cents. They're rude, they're crude, and they should find someone their own size to pick on, but what they're doing is not illegal.
Cyberbullying is an entirely different beast. It is illegal in a number of states. It's more vicious than the random mean comments on the Internet because it's more personal. According to StopCyberbully.org, it is specifically kid on kid. Most of the people commenting on Rebecca's video are adults. It's also rarely limited to a one-time communication -- the sort of one-off mean comments that Rebecca Black has gotten on YouTube.
But even more to the point, victims of cyberbullying are usually targeted (often by kids they know) and harassed mercilessly by that one person or a group of people. They're not just "being mean." They're systematically tearing the child to shreds, trying to make their lives miserable.
Cyberbully victims are kids like gay teen Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate distributed video of him having a sexual encounter with another guy. They're kids like Phoebe Prince, who similarly killed herself after repeated abuses that included other teens typing words like "Irish whore" on her Facebook page.
Cyberbullies might steal your teen's passwords and post embarrassing things on his/her Facebook. They might send your kid viruses that clog up their computer. They might snap a photo of them changing in the gym locker room and send it around school via "sext." Their motives are cruel, their means insidious. And usually they don't stop until they either get a reaction or get caught.
The sheer number of comments that Rebecca Black has gotten stinks. But let's not confuse things. Rebecca Black is a victim of the Internet age -- where people use anonymity to be mean for mean's sake. She's not a victim of cyberbullying.
Did you weigh in on Rebecca's video?
Image via YouTube