Are youth of color affected by cyberbullying?

by Lynda Lopez

The advent of the Internet has brought tremendous benefits, such as establishing connections among people that otherwise would not have been able to connect.

However, to quote Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is sometimes unclear what being responsible means on the Internet.

In recent years, there have been countless reported cases of “cyberbullying,” bullying that occurs on the Internet. One of the most prominent examples is that of Tyler Clementi.

Clementi, then a student at Rutgers University, committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly filmed Clementi’s sexual encounters with another man and posted it live on the Internet.

Clementi’s last Facebook post is dated September 22, 2011 at 8:42pm. It read, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”


In 2006, Megan Meier killed herself after the mother of a former friend created a fictitious profile to harass the Missouri 13-year old.

While these cases are horrible and highly visible examples of the negative effects of digital abuse, they are not showing us all sides of the story.

Most of the cyberbullying reported cases involve Caucasian students. In a country as diverse as ours, it is impossible to believe that cyberbullying only affects a fragment of the population. In addition, most cyberbullying cases don’t lead to the extremes of the aforementioned examples.

Wanting to understand more about media consumption among youth, a study was conducted by researchers at Northwestern University. They found striking differences among racial and ethnic groups. They found that young people of color are consuming or using an average of 13 hours of media a day or nearly 4.5 hours more than white youth. Even though young people of color are using an average of 13 hours of media a day, news outlets do not typically report on their experiences with digital abuse.

Beyondmedia Education and Mikva Challenge, two youth advocacy organizations in Chicago, sought to raise awareness about this discrepancy in reporting, so they partnered, with the support of Chicago Public Schools, to produce Your Social Life, a movie depicting the experiences of youth of color on the Internet. Your Social Life is a 20-minute docudrama and curriculum shaped by youth’s experiences with digital abuse.

In order to gain more insight into cyberbullying in communities of color, Beyondmedia Education hosted screenings and discussions of Your Social Life in the Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago. Black and Puerto Rican youth from ALSO & Blocks Together participated in a screening and discussion about their experiences with cyberbullying. These are their stories…

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Gina Rivera, 21, a Humboldt Park resident, recalls a story in which a girl’s private photos were posted on Facebook.

“Someone posted a naked photo of a girl they didn’t like,” Rivera says. “People across school were seeing this picture. It was just wrong.”

Another incident that Rivera cites is a recurring one involving a game called “Vs.”

In this so-called game, one person posts two pictures of two different people side by side.

“They basically compare two guys or girls,” Rivera says. “People post comments about the two people. It can cause a lot of self-esteem issues.”

Dylister Stewart,13, a 7th grader at Cameron Elementary School, was repeatedly ridiculed on Facebook, which caused her to stop using the social-networking site.

“A rumor started on Facebook about me being a dyke,” says Stewart. “It was pretty bad for a while and I stayed off Facebook after that.”

Kentarius Dawson 17, and junior at Clemente High School, said that a [burn] page was made by someone at his school to ridicule students.

“It was a page to talk about other people in a negative way,” Dawson says.

Iony Johnson 21, also of Humboldt Park, frequently uses Facebook, but indicates the drama that arises from using it.

“Sometimes people use Facebook for the wrong reasons,” says Johnson. “It gives people access to your private information.”

Christopher Serrano is a 22 year-old living in Humboldt Park. He is not on Facebook, but he is well aware of some of the things people do on the popular social networking site.

“I just don’t understand why people are so addicted to Facebook,” says Serrano. “You can’t even wipe the crust from your eyes in the morning without checking your Facebook.”

Serrano acknowledges that there are some positives to being on Facebook, such as being able to keep in contact with distant relatives, but that still isn’t enough to make him want to jump on the social-networking bandwagon.

Youth learn what is acceptable and safe face-to-face behavior, but as our society is relying more and more on digital technology as our main form of communication, it is imperative we start adapting and teaching these skills for online interactions and to educate youth about the emotional, social, and legal repercussions of digital behavior.

As someone who has experienced cyberbullying in the form of death threats, among other forms of intimidation, reporting on this issue was incredibly important to me. It allowed me to see the broader extent in which Internet harassment can hurt people. By telling these stories, we learn from each other what we must do differently moving forward in the digital age.

But despite the apparent downsides to social-networking, Johnson of Humboldt park says that it’s up to every person to determine what they do or do not post.

“It’s all about personal restrictions. The less you make public to the world, the better your life will be.”

To purchase a copy of Your Social Life and its accompanying curriculum, please visit www.beyondmedia.org/catalogue or call 773-857-7300.




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