No doubt you are aware of the tragic loss of life which occurred in Cooperstown, North Dakota late last week, when 16 year old Cassidy Joy Andel, posted a disquieting message upon her Facebook page, “My time has come, and so I’m gone. To a better place, far beyond,” and then took her life, she hung herself.  You see, she had been bullied beyond her ability to cope, in person, online, for days and days on end.
From: The Forum Fargo, ND

North Dakota is one of nine states in the United States with no legislation surrounding online bullying, and while it is unfortunate it took a tragedy such as young Cassidy taking her life to jolt the legislators to life, there now seems to be bipartisan interest in addressing the legislative gap.  Though I don’t believe for a second legislative induced penalties will solve the basic societal issues which exist and are found at the root of the online bullying phenomena which is only now getting the attention which it should have received many years ago.

Bullying is not new.  As I and many others have mentioned in the past, bullying has been around since the beginning of time.  Online bullying however put a bevy of new dynamics into the equation.  These are speed, intensity, persistence and permanence.   What do I mean by this?  In days gone by, if one child bullied another at school, both parties may share the experience with others, and their families, but the event was a one-off event which both sides could reflect and if you were in my house, the families would talk and sort it out – most times it was nothing more than he said/she said and the air was cleared.   Now in 2010, one of the unintended bi-products of the rise of social networks/media the speed at which the cut comes – it isn’t just during lunch period – from one’s mouth to one’s ear and overheard by those in proximity – now it is possible to cut 24/7/365.  In addition, the intensity of which the cuts can come transcend all the social networks and SMS text messaging, so that an entire populace (say a high school) can become aware of an embarrassing incident or a perceived slight.  furthermore, the persistent and permanent nature of the cuts make it nearly impossible for an individual who has been “targeted” to not be negatively impacted by the cuts, as they remain available in a near permanent archive, now we call them “cache” copies.

You see, there exists a number of firms which have come to be, with their business model surrounding how to protect their client’s online persona.  There isn’t a child in school who can afford such services, nor should they be necessary.   Parents, educators, clergy and youth organizations must unite and work in tandem, engage in the same online crowd sourcing that is used in industry to help communities understand the power of tolerance, respect, and value.  Without such, I fear that we’ll continue to learn of more and more of our young who leave their families, communities and frankly all of us, heartbroken, lost and without words. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Andel family as they cope with the loss of their daughter.

Online harassment and bullying isn’t limited to children, it permeates all demographics.  The difference?  An adult can be expected to have the tools to cope, a child rarely does.  And there in lays the tragedy:  A child unable to cope will turn to taking their own life as their ultimate escape, and the words of young Cassidy, “My time has come, and so I’m gone. To a better place, far beyond.” will haunt us for years to come.  Bullycide has claimed another victim.

Thank you for your time.

All the best,

My previous pieces on Cyber Bullying –
Online Safety – “Bullycide” the End Result of Cyber Bullying