Eric walked into my class and I could immediately tell that he was a little upset. I sat down next to him, sensing his mood, and knowing with that teacher sixth sense that something was wrong. Tall, thin, and animated, Eric was usually effusive when he entered class and, if anything, he was one of those students who need to be contained more than brought out from hiding. He was the student I could always rely upon asking me whether or not I had read his most recent essay; a student who actually enjoy the experience of learning, even when he pretended he didn’t. With his shoulders slumped forward, I carefully—and in a low tone so that other students entering the room couldn’t hear—asked what’s going on?
After some prototypical teenagers statements of “Nothing,” and “it’s no biggie, Mr. Whatley” he stated that there was this new, stupid Twitter account called CHS-Confessez. He claimed it was simultaneously disgusting yet he was drawn to the ugliness of it all. Worst of all, he mentioned that someone had written something gross about his girlfriend and that she was upset, even though what was said wasn’t even true. I talked him off the ledge, as he had guessed who made the statement about his girlfriend and was on the road to retaliation. I couldn’t help feeling it ironic that a kid who was utterly a peacemaker had allowed a few words to affect him so deeply.
After subscribing to the Twitter feed and wandering through the lines of tweets, I came across the post which had embittered him. The account was filled with all the crudeness of an anonymous online post—most of which was sexual, anatomical, and/or drug-laced. Some tweets were accusations towards teachers; others were just there for shock value.
At that point and after talking more with Eric, I decided to go to the administration to discuss the matter. The investigation went on and Twitter was contacted to take down the line of posts. The deans and I managed to identify several of the students and contacted parents accordingly. Other Twitter accounts with altered spelling arose as soon as CHS-Confessez was locked.
So, is this bullying? Is bullying only a shoulder shove in the halls; is it only the threat of an afterschool fight? Bullying in the 21st century is more open, more insidious, and far more digital. A person stripped of the confines of publicity through anonymity is free in one sense. He or she is ‘free’ to express thoughts that he might never say out loud—the monster id, let loose by a stripped super-ego. It is the anonymity of the masked looter, the road rage behind the wheel of a three thousand pound gun.
There is an irony, however, to this form of bullying. Crudeness set free becomes such a noise that the signal is lost within. The readers become anesthetized to their force. One student said that he read things about himself that weren’t true and simply didn’t care. Another said that people just say things to get attention; their words don’t carry any weight. So, in this manner, it becomes somehow less forceful than the push in the hall. It’s still, however, a violence and a violation of the restraints we’d hope for in a society less like our own.