Let’s be honest: bullying isn’t anything new, and most of us have probably experienced it in some form or another. Even so, the increase in internet use and social media platforms over the past several years has caused a sharp rise in cyberbullying. A study by McAfee in 2014 found that 87% of youth have witnessed cyberbullying, and a report by the Cyberbullying Research Center stated that 33.8% of students between the ages 12 and 17 said they were victims of cyberbullying. During my senior year of high school, I was one of that 33.8%.
When I was in 12th grade, my friend and I were bullied via Twitter by about 36 other people. A girl in my leadership class started a rumor that my friend and I ratted out a group of people who had gone to a party over the weekend. Everyone who went to that party got extremely upset—we were expected not to go out or drink as a condition of participating in our leadership class, which meant that anyone who went to the party could face getting kicked out of the leadership program.
The majority of our leadership class deemed this rumor as true and logged onto Twitter to attack my friend and me. The worst part about this was the subtweeting. On Twitter, “subtweeting” is the term for mentioning someone without tagging their username—sort of like the digital equivalent of talking behind their back—and everyone in my class was going at it. I found out through a close friend of mine who heard these people were talking about us, and I immediately logged onto Twitter to hopefully try and stand up for myself.
The things people were saying about me made me sick. I was called “a bible whore” and worse. Even people from outside our leadership class were piling on, including this one girl who tweeted, “Snitches get stitches.” I was shaking, tears streaming down my face, knowing I had to go to this class the next day. I did not respond to anything people were saying because by the time I logged on the situation had already spiraled out of control, with people from other high schools joining in on the attack. I then started to fear for my safety when one person tweeted, “2 VS 36 tomorrow.”
Cyberbullying is an issue that is often overlooked in our society. That year, one of my friends even said to me: “How is cyberbullying even real? Just log off and don’t get on the computer. Aaliyah, you can just walk away and not worry about what is online.” But I wasn’t able to just “walk away” from what was happening on Twitter because I knew that when I went to school the next day I would feel everyone’s eyes on me.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, “nearly two-thirds (64%) of the students who experienced cyberbullying stated that it really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.” I can 100% attest to this. After my experience, I felt threatened and began to fear that everyone hated me. The worst part was that I started to hate myself for it—even though I had done nothing wrong. After a rumor spread like wildfire, my friend and I had to take the heat. In the weeks that followed, I stopped caring about school and my self-esteem plummeted. I never felt fully confident or safe walking around my campus.
But the consequences of cyberbullying—and bullying in general—can be even more severe than that: 20% of kids who have been cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 will attempt it. If I could say anything to those who have been bullied and are considering suicide, my advice would be to stay strong and to know that what has happened to you is not your fault. No one deserves to be bullied, no matter what.
Going through this horrible experience has made me question what we as a society can do to prevent bullying. For starters, we must all take it upon ourselves to take action if we see someone being bullied—but sometimes that’s not enough. If you can’t help stop the bullying, at least lend a supportive hand to the person who is being bullied. A hug—or even just the knowledge that someone is there for you—can go a long way.
If you or someone you know is being bullied, click here for some helpful resources.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, click here for a Suicide Prevention Lifeline.