Anonymous Cyberbullying on Campus

What Stony Brook Students and Faculty are Doing to Counter it

Originally Posted on April 21, 2011 (cyberbullysbu.com)

Stony Brook University is no different than any other college campus in the country. It has its share of those hard-working academic achievers who like to party on the side, but for more than two years students at this school would anonymously post gossip in online forums like CollegeACB.com to trash talk their peers.

The First Amendment right to “Freedom of Speech” protects these anonymous trolls who go to post in a multitude of hateful threads, including: “Sluttiest Slutty Sluts of Slutterdam” and “Most socially awkward people on campus.” Not only can students post anonymously, but also, many will identify their target by name.

Shaina Morales, 19, a sophomore at Stony Brook, was mentioned in three different threads on the website. “What was said about me was that I am a heroin addict, a coke whore, a slut that dresses like a stripper and that I am ugly and oily-faced,” Morales said. “I think people need to know that it actually hurts people and that it’s not funny all the time and can really scar someone.”

Created in 2009, the website CollegeACB.com was originally a way for students to post anonymously about events, people and places within the college community. Founded by Wesleyan University junior Peter Frank, the website quickly attracted more than 500 colleges nationwide. Each college has its own site where students can post on an array of anonymous threads. Students post daily on the Stony Brook ACB site. While some threads have been used to insult peers, many offer neutral discussions, such as, “Stony Brook Tunnels?!” and “Where are the best places to study?”

In a thread titled, “Looking for someone who wishes to come clean about bullying on ACB,” many students responded but only a few had something meaningful to say. “Their lives are in crisis I’d think,” one anonymous student said in response to the question, why people choose to pick on others online, where everyone can see it. “They are obviously not friends with the person being attacked, otherwise they could solve any conflicts person to person as it is done by everyone else. So by attacking an individual publicly, the bully is attempting to bring the other person down so that his/her self can feel better. So it is like a defense mechanism in away.”

Earlier this year, Frank sold his stake in the website to an anonymous CEO who has promised major changes. Frank could not be reached to comment on the recent sale of the website.

According to the site’s new mission statement, “to censor words is to censor ideas.” The site explains that in coming months, it hopes to “encourage users to post more positive and productive content, allow users to highlight content they like, give users the power to remove content they don’t like and push the culture of the site in a more positive and productive direction.” But for now, cruelty remains as cyberbullies continue to harass their peers on the site.
The term cyberbullying is most commonly applied to students in grade school, but in this age of social networking, virtually anyone can participate.

Dr. Michele Ybarra, an expert in technology-related health issues and president of Internet Solutions for Kids, explained in a Skype instant-message-based interview from Uganda that there are many theories behind why people feel a need to bully their peers.

“Some data suggests that bullies have higher social status, such that bullying is a way to gain status amongst your peers” Ybarra wrote, “Others believe that it’s a way to compensate for poor self-esteem, but this isn’t as well supported by the data. And some believe that it’s a lack of empathy (which is not mutually exclusive with these other theories).”

New technologies such as smartphones and social networking websites have only increased the avenues in which bullies can harass their peers. Mor Keshet, the coordinator of the Bully Prevention Center, a division of Child Abuse Prevention Services in Nassau County, N.Y., explained that people tend to do and say things differently online than they would in person.

“Social media has become an inherent part of people’s lives and is difficult to supervise and almost impossible to contain,” Keshet said. “Once something is online, it’s out there forever.”

Chloe Feffer, 19, a sophomore at Stony Brook, has been called a “hoe and a half” on CollegeACB. In response, Feffer posted the following: “HAHAHA you really wish this was true don’t you. How pathetic.” Her comments did little as students continued to post malicious comments about her and her friends.

The Stony Brook University code of conduct states that offenses against persons are prohibited. “No student shall threaten, assault, haze or otherwise physically, psychologically, verbally, or in writing by electronic means or otherwise, abuse any other person.”

In an effort to embrace community and to actively cut down on the number of onlookers to bullying, in both online and physical settings, Stony Brook students and faculty have created a community pledge. Minal Kadam, chapter president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and one of the members of the community pledge committee, explains that the pledge is an active take on the current community statement. “People that take the community pledge are being asked to promise that they will not only adhere by the community statement and respect and appreciate others, but also stand up for those who aren’t being respected or appreciated,” Kadam said.

But more often then not, once somebody posts something malicious it is too late to intervene. In cases like this it may be better not to respond.

According to Keshet, “Bullies are looking for an emotional response.” When dealing with anonymous forums, Keshet recommended that students do three things:
First, students should “save the evidence” so they have a hard copy if they wish to bring the case to authorities. Second, they should “report the abuse.” Every website has terms and conditions regarding what can be posted online. Lastly, students should “disengage” by controlling their impulse to respond.

“Don’t continue to engage, because that’s just what the bullies want,” Keshet said.

Cyberbullying can do more than just affect a person’s reputation. In some cases, it can do psychological harm.

Ybarra said little research has been done on the long-term psychological effects of cyberbullying. Most of what is known take place at the same time someone reports being cyberbullied.

“There is a greater likelihood of reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety and, in some cases, externalizing behaviors such as substance use,” Ybarra said.

If any of these symptoms should strike students at Stony Brook University, they can go to the Center for Prevention and Outreach for counseling. Susan Byrne, the senior sexual violence counselor at the center, explains that while students cannot stop people from posting, students can address their own reactions to any further threatening behavior by speaking with the center and discussing their options. But the center has seldom seen students walk in with complaints of cyberbullying.

“Some students feel alone when they are personally attacked online,” Byrne said. What the center’s staff does is talk to the students so they feel supported and know that they’re not alone. “We also try to make them feel more empowered by showing them options they can take, such as pressing charges.”

The posts on CollegeACB.com weren’t the first for Kameron Myers, 19, a Stony Brook freshman. “This isn’t the first time this kind of stuff has happened,” Myers said, “I’m from Maryland, and there is a very similar website that used to exist. It was called Peoplesdirt.com, and there is stuff about me there.”

In a thread on ACB titled “Kameron Myers (a.k.a. DJ Enclave),” students took turns writing explicit comments, badmouthing Myers and his abilities as a disc jockey. Since the interview with Myers, he sent a request to CollegeACB.com, which eventually took the post about him off the website.

On every thread on the CollegeACB site, users can click the “report” button and send a post deletion request to the webmaster of the site. To delete a post, users must include their name, e-mail, thread link, number of posts and a brief reason why they want to delete the post.

“In Maryland, the cops got involved because there were death threats, and all I see in the future is that kind of stuff happening here,” Myers said.

If posts were to escalate to that level, or if students want to report that they have been victimized, the University Police Department can step in and assess the situation.
Stony Brook University Chief of Police Robert J. Lenahan explained that while it is rare that the police are notified about instances of cyberbullying, there have been a few cases on campus. “If we determine that the content of the cyberbullying is criminal in nature, a repercussion of engaging in this behavior is arrest and prosecution of the offender,” Lenahan said, “In addition, if the offender is a student, we will also refer the matter to the Office of University Community Standards for additional administrative action.”

If the bully is anonymous, the University Police can use the technology at their disposal to identify the origin of the post.

However, much of the online bullying goes unreported.

Myers had previously reported an instance in Maryland but didn’t feel that the post on CollegeACB was needing the involvement of law enforcement.

“If it gets to a level where it’s threatening people and endangering other’s lives then the school should take action,” Myers said, “but at this point, I have not seen anything besides hateful words, so I don’t think so.”

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