Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tales from the online darkside

The AP is reporting that as many as one in three children in the US have been a victim of what is being called cyberbullying. This comes hard on the heels of the much publicized case of Megan Meier, a 13 year-old from suburban St. Louis who committed suicide last year after believing that a boyfriend she met on MySpace had broken up with her. The boyfriend was later revealed to have been a hoax creation of Meier's 47 year-old neighbor Lori Drew. The story received widespread coverage in the national media. Local authorities declined to charge Ms. Drew with any crime, but the local Board of Alderman chose this week to pass an ordinance making online harassment punishable with up to 90 days in jail.

On a related noted, I noticed a story on the Blogging Ethics newscrawl installed this week on the lower right hand corner of this page by Devin Stewart. This from OKC Friday, which bills itself as "the Newspaper for Oklahoma's Trendsetters":

A Village woman’s nasty blog posting was met with real life threats that led to Village Police sending out a metro-wide notice regarding a potentially dangerous person. On Oct. 17, a woman called police to report receiving threatening email messages. According to reports, the woman suspected the messages came from another woman who had been involved with the caller’s ex-husband. She told police she had written bad things about the other woman on her MySpace page and, although she did not name names in the posting, thought the subject of the postings had somehow found them and knew they were about her.
You can read the rest here.

Two examples of the anonymous world of the internet spilling over into the "real world" with tragic consequences. Have you been bullied online? Do you consider this a tolerable byproduct of the freedom of expression that the internet provides?


photo blog girl said...

Wow, I had not heard about this story. I stumbled across your blog and it looks like very quality stuff. I'm going to add you to my "blogs I like" on my blog. Thanks for the socially conscious blog!

Ranting Riddle said...

I have been a long time internet user, coder, and gamer. I like many others who have played MMORPG's or MUDs have at some point met someone online who has either been rude, racist, annoying, or a harasser. I don't expect young teens or children to be able to handle all of the stresses of relationships and online gossip as mature as an adult. Unfortunately, I have not been given the opportunity to be a parent, but I think that censorship of the internet should come from the users and or the guardians of the users of the internet. There seems to be a dwindling in the amount of responsibility parents are taking in the lives of their children. One big step would be to not post your home location, e-mail, or any other access available to your "real life" world. I believe the best step would be for parents to be involved and monitor what their children are doing and coach them in how to deal with situations that could come up in different parts of their life.

- Riddle

Christina Madden said...

This post reminds me of the "Internet hunting" going on in China in which, according to a New York Times article from last June, "morality lessons are administered by online throngs and where anonymous Web users come together to investigate others and mete out punishment for offenses real and imagined."

"Morality lessons" can apply to suspected affairs, fraud, and other crimes. Here's an excerpt from the NYTimes report of one of the extreme cases:

[A] man, who goes by the Web name Freezing Blade, discovered online correspondence between his wife, Quiet Moon, and a college student, Bronze Mustache. After an initial conversation, in which he forgave his wife, the man discovered messages on his wife's computer that confirmed to him that the liaison was continuing. He then posted the letter denouncing Bronze Mustache, and identifying him by his real name.

The case exploded on April 20, when a bulletin board manifesto against Bronze Mustache was published by someone using the name Spring Azalea.

"We call on every company, every establishment, every office, school, hospital, shopping mall and public street to reject him," it said. "Don't accept him, don't admit him, don't identify with him until he makes a satisfying and convincing repentance."

Impassioned people teamed up to uncover the student's address and telephone number, both of which were then posted online. Soon, people eager to denounce him showed up at his university and at his parents' house, forcing him to drop out of school and barricade himself with his family in their home.

Christina Madden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

wow, christina. thanks for pointing out that story. sounds like Bronze Mustache got virtually tagged with the Scarlet Letter. i can almost see the pitchforks and torches.

Devin Stewart said...

Great question: Should we expect some bullying and attacks as a trade off for free speech and expression on the Internet? Clearly, we should not. But some of the solutions to protecting the bullied--making people online more anonymous--are contrary to shining a light on those who bully--making people online more identifiable and therefore accountable.

When it comes to protecting children, I agree with many of the posts here that much of the responsibility rests with the parents. Just like a household tool like a knife or hammer, the Internet is a tool that can help or harm when used improperly. In many ways, blogging ethics starts at home.

MORONIC said...

I think it is real life that is being enacted here on the internet and if you are 'meeting' someone on the net it is just like meeting a new friend or person, like a friend you might just mainly talk to on the phone (e.g. a friend in another country / state or whatever), except that there is more scope for annonimity and therefore more room for moronic behaviour which is why more care is needed, which the young are not so well endowed with sometimes. But as a reflection of real life you are bound to meet plenty of morons and worse because human nature is exaggerated on there and the bullies and morons have much more freedom to get away with their activities (or so they think). But my main question is : were those village police related to the village people at all? YMCA style? Sorry if this is not high-level enough!

Anonymous said...

thank you...

Anonymous said...

This is a crazy story, the writers of my blog and I, who write comedy were considering doing a story about it, but then decided that it was to mean.

Female therapy said...


I found that story very disturbing but not surprising. What I find difficult is that a 47 year old women would play mind games with a 13 year old girl, you would hope she knew better. I experienced some mild internet bullying but had to accept it as an downfall of publishing stories to the rest of the world... but it's so unpleasant and even now I get a sinking feeling when I see a new comment come in.

As a response to bullying i wrote in my blog, 'Let's not let the minority group ruin these places for the rest of us. Remember if they are unleashed and charge in your direction, walk away, they are emotionally retarded and so very jealous of you. For those that do bully, we are all adults, isn’t it time you got some therapy and grew up?'

I like the blog i'll def come back x

College Student Musings said...

"Cyberbullying," has seemed to be presented here as a relatively new concept. This may be true to an extent, but bullying in any form has always been going on, and its extension to internet technology is something I think should be expected.

That is not to say, however, that it is okay for this to happen. Just as steps are taken in schools and workplaces to prevent harassment, steps need to be taken in online communities as well. This does not necessarily governmental regulatory steps (at least to start with), but an awareness needs to be spread about how to handle a situation in which one is being "cyberbullied"

- Corey