To all the people of cyberspace, a warning: Beware of Internet bullies.
These are the bad guys who are like viruses that try to infect and destroy the world we live in – both the cyber-world and the real world we live in.
Tina Meier, 37, holds two pictures of her daughter Megan who committed suicide after receiving cruel messages on Myspace.
These bullies are worse than their schoolyard counterparts since they could literally get away with murder. They could attack people with their nasty e-mail, text messaging, and online chat at a distance, thus keeping their anonymity and enabling them to evade the law.
In the most recent incident, a 13-year-old Missouri girl hanged herself with a belt in November last year after exchanging insults via her profile page at MySpace.com with a person she was tricked into thinking was a 16-year-old boy named “Josh.”
The final message sent by Josh, who flirted with the girl for weeks online, was reportedly “The world would be a better place without you.”
It turned out Josh was an online persona created by the mother of a former friend of the girl. The woman told investigators she played the charade to find out what the girl really thought of her daughter, who was the jilted friend.
On Monday, Dec. 3, a suburban St. Louis prosecutor announced that people who sent cruel Internet messages to the 13-year-old girl before she committed suicide won’t face criminal charges.
St. Charles County prosecutor Jack Banas said that while he understands the public outrage over Megan Meier’s death, he could not find statutes allowing him to charge anyone in the case.
“We were certainly hopeful that there was going to be some sort of prosecution, but I’m certainly not surprised,” said Megan’s mother, Tina Meier.
Megan’s parents say she hanged herself Oct. 16, 2006, minutes after she became distraught over mean messages received through the social networking site MySpace. She died the next day, and weeks later her family learned that a boy she had been communicating with online did not actually exist.
A police report said that a mother from the neighborhood and her then-18-year-old employee fabricated a profile for a teenage boy online who pretended to be interested in Megan before he began bullying her.
Reaction to the case has been strong, with angry postings on the Internet identifying the family behind the fake profile. The household has reported vandalism, including a brick thrown at a window. Police have stepped up patrols in the area.
According to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children ages 10 to 17 who say they were abused by “cyber bullies” climbed 50 percent, from six percent in 2000 to nine percent in 2005.
“One thing that stands out is that aggression perpetuated with technology goes far beyond cyber bullying,” said Corrine Ferdon, one of the authors of the CDC report on “electronic aggression and youth violence.”
Instant messaging, including text messages sent to mobile telephones, is the most common way to send taunts, teases, threats, insults or other bullying messages, according to report co-author Marci Hertz.
Unlike in schoolyards where bullies have to face victims, the Internet lets abusers remain anonymous, Hertz said. The majority of the self-described victims in the study said they didn’t know who the “cyber bullies” were, Hertz said.
“In the schoolyard you could defend yourself by speaking back but it is a completely different dynamic online,” Hertz said. “Some kids might be able to shrug it off, turn off the computer and move on. But some kids are more fragile,” she said.
OK, here’s a way to stop these cyber bullies and other bad guys: Wish them well. Bombard them with good, positive vibes, telling them how much lovelier the world would be if they cast away their negative images of themselves and become responsible and law-abiding members of society.
As always in this world, there would be those who would resist change and continue to play their role as bad guys and spoilers of humanity. What to do with them?
I guess, karma provides the only answer. They would get “it,” sooner or later. Next time you step on and crush a cockroach, that’s one less former bad guy in our world.