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The Death of Rebecca Sedwick and Cyberbullying: The Need to Do More
On September 14, I woke up to read an article on the front page of the New York Times about a 12-year-old girl, Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide due to the devastating effects of cyberbullying. Even one death by cyberbullying is one too many, but at Common Sense Media this story is -- tragically -- too familiar.
For more than a year, Rebecca had been cyberbullied by many kids in her middle school, who bombarded her with threatening text messages through various social media forums, including the sites Ask.fm, Kik, and Voxer. "Why are you still alive?" "You're ugly," and "Can u die please?" are a sampling of the hate-filled, malicious messages Rebecca received over the course of a year. Then, on the morning of Monday, September 9, Rebecca climbed onto a tower and leapt to her death.
As this tragedy sadly illustrates, cyberbullying is a real threat with real consequences. While there have always been bullies, online forums such as Ask.fm have taken it to a new level: Kids can now send incredibly hurtful messages to their peers under the guise of anonymity. We need to look at and hold accountable these social media platforms.
Recently, Ask.fm was at the center of a similar cyberbullying-related suicide in Britain and responded by pledging to do more, like adding a "bullying/harassment" button. But obviously, they haven't done enough. The site doesn't monitor content but instead asks its users to report behavior on the site that's violent, pornographic, or contains hate speech. It also states that users must be 13 or older to join. Clearly Rebecca never made it to her 13th birthday.
As a father, child advocate, and teacher, I implore parents and educators to engage with their children and their students on how they're using social media and how it may be impacting their social and emotional well-being. I encourage you to check out our free resources for parents and teachers,and please share them with everyone you know.
Resources like this help open the dialogue around this topic. But we don't just need dialogue. We need real change so that 12-year-old girls aren't killing themselves. Online sites like Ask.fm need to be held accountable for their role in facilitating cyberbullying. For the sake of our children, let's reverse the trend and make this end now.