Bullying: the YouTube connection


Does YouTube attract
bullies or vanquish them?

The answer is yes.

But it’s not just YouTube; the following observations could be applied
to any online medium. I’ve been following a couple of stories this past week
(I’m late to the party, I know.)

The first one might be filed under “Be careful what you wish for.” And
that goes triple for parents who seem to have unusual priorities. Though I
spend a fair amount of time on the internet, I had not heard of “Friday” singer
Rebecca Black until I read this NY Times article. This is sad on multiple levels:

The eighth grader wants to be a pop star, and her parents paid US$2,000 to the Ark Music Factory to turn her simple song “Friday,” about looking forward to a weekend party,
into an Internet-ready video. It went viral, but not entirely in the way
Rebecca and her family had hoped. She received nearly 30 million YouTube hits,
and that became license for countless strangers to pummel her online. They
called her “the worst singer in the world” and — in the comment she says hurt
the most — said, “I hope you’ll get an eating disorder so you’ll be pretty.”

That’s horrible,
but you have to wonder what the girl and her parents (whom I assume are quite media-savvy)
were actually expecting. Moreover, when your child is in eighth grade, there
are so many things for parents to concentrate on helping them achieve: good
grades, sports, cultivating healthy friendships, hobbies, even pursuing serious
music study. Should “help child become pop star” even be on the agenda? If it
is, however, and you (as a parent) are prepared to put your child “out there”,
be mindful that “it’s a jungle”—and getting more carnivorous by the day. It
doesn’t matter how talented or lovely you are, some people will hate you and
have no qualms about telling you so. Just ask Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus.

I tend to agree
with “Julie” from North Carolina, who said in the Comments section:

“Anyone, even a child, who puts him or herself out into the public
at large for judgment should be prepared to receive offensive comments. It's
her parents' job to teach her how to ignore these, so they're not a blow to her

Rebecca’s video
has garnered her more than the standard 15 minutes of fame (TV interviews and a
mall tour), and her song has become one of the top downloaded songs recently on
iTunes. Only she can decide if the abuse was worth it, and whether she, not the
online bullies, will have the last laugh.

Then there is the Casey Heynes story from
Australia. The teen achieved worldwide fame after a short video, which shows
him retaliating to bullying, went viral. He has become a hero to bullied
children all over the world and has received hundreds of thousands of supportive
messages. Ritchard Gale, the diminutive bully from the video, is likewise on
the receiving end of world-wide attention, but it’s in the form of loathing,
contempt, and thousands of abusive messages. He is 12 years old.

Ritchard responds that he has himself
been bullied, and was in fact taunted by Casey before he launched his punching
tirade. (Casey denies this, saying he was ambushed by a group of kids including
Ritchard.) If Ritchard was a victim of bullying, it doesn’t excuse his
behaviour toward Casey, but it makes it more comprehensible.

It’s disturbing to
see the sort of messages to Ritchard that have been posted online: “[He] should
have died”; “Millions of people hate you”; “You will burn in hell.” And so
forth. What makes these commenters think their vitriolic behaviour toward Ritchard
is justified? Because they hate bullying so much (and what normal person doesn’t?),
it’s OK to crush and despise the perpetrator? Has Ritchard been punished sufficiently
at this point, or would his critics and new-found enemies like to see his future
completely ruined? Perhaps they would like to bully him to the point of
committing suicide?

Though Casey’s
reaction (‘body-slamming’ Ritchard) could have seriously injured the smaller
boy, Casey believes he did not “overreact”. In other words, the level of
violence he used was justified. As much as I sympathise with Casey for all he
has suffered, his attitude is  problematic. The trouble is, so many adults seem to agree. As
one interviewee puts it, “He’s enacting a revenge fantasy for every kid… who’s
ever been bullied.” Understandable, but ultimately, no way to solve the

Teachers’ groups
reacted with the same sentiment. Even though I tend to have allergic reactions
to statements that begin; “Teachers’
unions say…” ,  there is merit in this

“The glossy coverage surrounding the fight has
not been helpful to the children involved, or to teachers who have policies and
procedures in place to deal with bullying.”

The coverage seems
to have been immediately helpful to Casey: he is less likely to be bullied from
now on—unless of course, it backfires at some future point, “revenge fantasies”
being inherently self-perpetuating. The media coverage of this story certainly
hasn’t been helpful to teachers and schools—I’m probably not the only one
asking where the school staff was during the altercation in question. (Perhaps
at a union meeting discussing their demands not to have to do playground
supervision outside of classroom hours.) Not that teachers are entirely (or
even mostly) responsible for solving this huge problem. I agree with NY Times
columnist Lisa
, when she asks: “Where were the parents?”

Saddest of all, Casey’s
dad had “no idea” that his son had been friendless and bullied his entire
school life. None. Parent-child communication is so crucial—it could be, and
often is, a matter of life and death for bullied children. I’m not sure, given
this particular situation, that events could have transpired any other way.
Casey “snapped”; he’d reached a breaking point. This indicates that the problem
should have been addressed long ago. The onus here is primarily on parents and
teachers, and to a lesser extent, society’s attitudes towards violence as a
means of solving dilemmas.

Casey’s dad
regrets the level of violence used to achieve the end, but is glad that his son
finally stood up for himself. He adds that the world-wide support has “changed [Casey’s]
demeanour, his self-esteem.  He’s
standing a lot straighter, a lot more proud.” But wasn’t it the job of Casey’s
parents (and teachers) to do that all along? Where, why, and how did they let
him down?

If there’s one
iron-clad axiom about bullying, perhaps it is this: there are no winners. But
there must be solutions. The question arises: what role should social media
play? “Also there are concerns with technology being able to record and
distribute such incidents,” [New South Wales Teachers Federation President] Mr
Lipscombe said.

I’ll say. I’m a little creeped-out that the
Casey Heynes bullying video was made in the first place. Casey says he had not
one friend to back him up, so the video had to be made  either by one of the bully gang who
wanted a sick trophy of the day’s work, or a well-meaning (but perhaps
cowardly) bystander who possibly meant to collect evidence to be presented to authorities
at a later time. Pardon me for leaning towards the first assumption. I don’t
want to consider a third possibility: that it was taken by someone utterly indifferent
to the situation, who just recorded it for entertainment.

It certainly
speaks to the whole phenomenon of voyeurism vs. participation in life. The
former is more prevalent today, but only the latter will help fix society’s
problems. Social media can be a blessing or a curse, but only human beings can
fix the mess.

Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer.
She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children.


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