Bullying and suicide: Misinformation and hyperbole link them
A teen's fake Facebook page about a child who committed suicide as a victim of bullying raises the need for digital literacy to separate fact from fiction. Facebook isn't a context – life is the context for Facebook.
As a fellow parent put it, “It blows me away that she got suspended for telling it like it is (from her perspective).”Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He was talking about the story of high school freshman Jessica Barba, who – for a school assignment – created a video and Facebook profile of a fictional 12-year-old who, the story goes, committed suicide because she was bullied. The real-life drama continued when some “concerned parent” saw the fake profile but apparently not the disclaimers in it that this was fiction and called her local police, who called the school, which subsequently suspended Jessica for five days, later unsuspending her during a hearing held while Jessica and her parents appeared on NBC’s Today Show.
(Adding absurdity to the pile of mistakes on just about everybody's part, including news reporters, author Judith Warner wrote in Time.com that the "outrage" in all this was how her teachers would "allow this girl, like so very many of her peers, to reach nearly the end of 10th grade without a solid grasp of written English." Really, Ms. Warner, this was your main takeaway?)
By all accounts, Jessica was honestly “telling it like it is” – in a school assignment – from her perspective. Of course she shouldn’t be punished for that, and that part of the story had a happy ending. She was allowed back to school and the suspension was erased from her school record.
But her perspective illustrated the most important takeaway from this experience: how it parroted back the misinformation, hyperbole, and fear her generation has been fed by (probably mostly well-meaning but) misinformed reporters, policymakers, school officials, and Internet-safety advocates. Very unfortunately, I’m hearing more and more kids echoing the misinformation they and their parents have been getting.
Echo chamber of dangerous messaging
For example, Jessica’s video suggests she learned somewhere that suicide naturally follows bullying, which is dangerously simplistic – not a message that should be spread. I doubt she’d take much comfort in this, but her video has something in common with the recently released film "Bully," supposedly one of the more “sensitive” accounts of this age-old problem.