Jamie Armstrong was a victim of cyber bullying at Queen Anne’s County High School in Centreville, Md. Although she had been bullied by this girl for two years through texting and verbal harassment, she did not expect the bully to spill lies about her all over the internet. Armstrong’s bully posted mean and untrue lies about her to the cyber-world during her freshman year of college.
School programs such as Baltimore County Public Schools “loving is louder” week-long campaign, are making cyberbullying more aware to students, parents, and staff. April Lewis, Manager of Safety of Baltimore County Public Schools, said that there were 603 reports of bullying last year in Baltimore County Public Schools and most accounts of reported bullying are specified as cyber bullying. The day that started it all was at the beginning of her junior year of 2011.
Rumors circulated about Armstrong at school and soon the bully began harassing her through text messaging. The bullying hit its peak during her freshman year at college, when Armstrong’s aggressor posted lies on Twitter about her having sex, doing drugs, and partying while at college. At first Armstrong was able to ignore the hateful text messages. Since the Twitter incident, Armstrong has her bully blocked on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites as well as on her phone.
“I tried to fix the situation by taking myself out of the group and befriending other friends but it really didn’t help the situation at all,” Armstrong said.
“Cyber bullying has become a new way of bullying in the 21st century with 43 percent of kids that are bullied being bullied online,” Michael Ford Ed.D, behavior specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education, said.
“Recent findings have shown that many kids don’t bully because they have a crush on the other person or want them to like them but rather because they want to cause the other person pain.” said Janet Shipman, Coordinator of School Counseling and Student Support for Frederick County Public Schools.
“The difference between cyber bullying and traditional bullying is that with traditional bullying you get picked on by bullies but you can leave school,” Ford said. “You can escape from that person and go home and get a break from the abuse. When it comes to cyber bullying it can happen much more frequently and you can really never get away from it.”
With only one in 10 teens telling their parents about being cyber bullied many wonder why they just didn’t turn off their computer and ignore them. Having an off switch seems to be one of the only benefits of not being bullied in person.
“The majority of cyber bullying is actually committed with cell phones through texting” Ford said.“These days teenagers’ cell phones are their lives. Turning their phones off or simply getting off Facebook is not as easy as that when your life revolves around it.”
With recent events caused by cyber bullying many people, government agencies and companies have decided to join the cause to end cyber bullying. Facebook has recently decided to start a program to help reduce cyber bullying in Anne Arundel County.
“some social media outlets such as Facebook in its early stages proved to be difficult to work with when trying to get harmful images removed,” Ford said. “However the company has recently started a pilot program with the State of Maryland naming a point of contact in every public school system and with the State Department of Education that will be the liaison between FB and the general public to help get troubling images or comments removed.”
Grace’s law was inspired by Grace McComas, a Glenelg student who committed suicide in 2012 because she was cyberbullied. The law will make the use of a smart phone or computer in the bullying of a minor under the age of 18 a misdemeanor, with the penalty of a $500 fine or up to one year in prison if convicted.
“She had a lot of friends and was really nice,” Eric Fiege, a classmate of McComas, said. “I don’t think anyone really had any idea what was really going on with her because we never saw her being bullied, it was all online.”
The bully began turning her friends against her and eventually she was forced to make new friends in high school. This caused even more problems.
“My old friends were jealous of my new friends and that caused new problems,” Armstrong said “I was upset that I lost all my friends. We had a group of six people and they all turned against me.”
She only told one teacher at her school and the teacher told her that if anything became too serious, to contact her again. Jamie didn’t.
“The school always promoted anti-bullying things, but I never brought it up with the school,” said Armstrong. “I thought I could handle it on my own.”
Jamie said that the reason that not a lot of students report cyber bullying is because schools publicize it so much and they make it seem like it happens all the time and it’s not a big deal. “I never showed that I cared,” Armstrong said. “As long as folks have access to the internet, cyberbullying will continue.”
April Lewis, Manager of Safety of Baltimore County Public Schools, said. “In general, access has increased opportunity.”
According to the Baltimore County Public Schools policy and rules, cyberbullying is “Harassing, humiliating, intimidating, or threatening others on the internet or via cellular phones or other technology available to youth.”
“When I meet kids, cyberbullying is causing the greatest concern,” Lewis said.
The school system includes a section in the student handbook stating consequences of cyberbullying, such as suspension and expulsion depending on the crime. Next year, the schools in the district plan for school resource officers talk to the students with formal lesson plans about preventing cyberbullying.
“People understand more that it’s very serious,” Lewis said. “We’re looking at mental health issues and providing mental health support.”
BCPS promoted a campaign to reduce bullying and cyberbullying. They held an anti-bullying week March 3-7 of 2014 with the theme of, “Loving is Louder.” During this week students were encouraged to tweet #Lovingislouder in hopes to get 5,000 tweets. BCPS has a three-credit class that is once a week called, “No Bullying Here” to make teachers and staff more aware of cyberbullying so that they can realize the signs early.
BCPS is putting a new system with their bullying reporting system.Now students are able to report semi-anonymously report being bullied through an online form that gets sent to the principal’s mailbox.
In August of 2013, Armstrong went to away to college at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and her bully went to college in Texas. A few months later, Jamie was viciously harassed on Twitter from her bully. The bully posted a message on twitter, talking about Armstrong, but did not tag her in the post responding to something that Armstrong posted about her college experience. The bully posted comments such as “of course you are having fun because you are doing drugs and having sex.”
This pushed Jamie over the edge, causing her to block the bully off of Facebook, Twitter, her phone, and any other source of communication with her. Jamie said her reputation was not harmed by the bully’s harsh words, but it hurt her feelings that someone would go out of their way to post something terribly mean on social media. This whole situation has opened Jamie’s eyes about who to trust. Jamie opened up to this girl during their first two years of high school, and the bully used this information against her in the end.
“It makes me more cautious of who I talk to,” Armstrong said.
Jamie’s best advice to those who are being bullied is to tell someone about it, whether it be a teacher, a friend, or a parent.
“Don’t hoard it inside you. Talk to someone about it,” Armstrong said.