In David Schwimmer’s TRUST, the teenage character Annie finds herself the subject of great deal of unwanted and undeserved attention by her high school classmates in a manner in which constituted to all would be unacceptable and falls within the realm of cyberbullying (as the bullying occurred using online media). We all have encountered instances where those who did not conform or who had experienced something not of the ordinary come under undo scrutiny and are isolated for the experience by their peers. The scrutiny often times manifests itself into ridicule, sarcasm or insults as those who are observing from afar attempt to differentiate and exclude themselves from the experience.
Annie was surrounded by those who cared deeply about her, but their caring did not equate to her protection. Though her experience was horrific, her friends and family did not abandon, indeed one would say they circled the wagons, after the fact. In doing so some of their actions caused additional scrutiny of Annie by those viewing from afar. These individuals (students) lacked the benefit of familiar ties, depth of friendship or consideration for Annie’s inner psyche. They instead opted to enter into group-think, a lemming like reaction which becomes further magnified in this online world where information/photos/videos can circulate with unequaled rapidity. The bad experience can be distorted and characterized inappropriately and incorrectly. This is exactly what happens to Annie.
Annie’s parents could and should have been monitoring activities at school and online for any and all reference to their daughter in all contexts. Photos and videos from student’s smart-phones can and do go viral in seconds, with or without appropriate context attached, and often times without any concern as to how it may have a deleterious effect on the victim. There is a lack of accountability and responsibility of one’s actions when one thinks they are doing it anonymously, or within the accepted norms of their peers, even when those norms are wrong.
Having in place appropriate monitoring and listening infrastructure is key. With such infrastructure it may be easier, when necessary, to obtain public and private capabilities to protect the reputation of the child, Annie. Immediate knowledge of an online event permits the parent to intercede both with their child who is being bullied or besmirched and to use the tools and resources necessary to prevent or reduce the continued distribution of content. They can use the power of the immediate takedown notices and other legal remedies. For the more complex there exist a number of paid (for hire) entities which conduct reputation monitoring as a full-time endeavor and have in place varying degrees of infrastructure to monitor and protect one’s online reputation. These are reactive, after the fact actions.
In Annie’s instance, she had an experience that her peers wished to disassociate them self from and to ridicule in the extreme. This should never happen, but it does – both in person and online. Perhaps if we as a society invested in the education of our children during their formative and early education years about the need for compassion, understanding and empathy, then being different won’t be a reason to be bullied, in person or via online technology and we can render moot the term: cyberbullying.
NB: The distributors of this film, Millennium Entertainment, provided an advance copy to this author for review and to enable this piece to be written prior to the film opening. The author provides his thoughts pro bono.