Does a Cyberbully Ever Grow Up?


Have you ever thought about the stupid things kids did to you growing up and wonder how those kids turned out? What about the stupid things you did to other kids? Back in my day, if you got mad at somebody, you called them a name, ganged up on them at lunch time, or, worse case, punched each other enough to hurt in the back parking lot after school. Maybe you TP’d their house or egged their car, if they were older and had one. You were just a teenager and, when stuff at home was lousy, you took it out on someone else, someone smaller or weaker or less popular. Parents and society kept a tight lid over some of the more terrible consequences you may have dreamed up; not that you would have done them. It was too much trouble and too scary to think about actually doing them.

Then, you grew up and moved away and promptly forgot all about that stuff. Maybe you briefly wondered if you would see one of the guys you took a punch at during the class reunion but that wasn’t a problem if you didn’t go or he didn’t. The past was firmly behind you. You’d moved on and just hoped everyone else had. But what if they hadn’t? What if you’d done something you didn’t think was all that bad but turned out to be?

In The Atlantic this week, there was a story by Francie Diep, entitled, “Confronting My Cyberbully, 13 Years Later.” Cyberbullying seems to be to be a recent phenomenon. I thought, “Has it really been going on for 13 years?” In this fascinating piece, Diep outlines the torment she went through from age 13 to 16 by an ex-BFF called “Amanda.” Diep admits, as an adult, to a benign form of cyberstalking of Amanda, after recognizing her on Facebook through mutual contacts. Diep went so far as to ascertain Amanda’s wedding photographer so she could go to that website and view all of Amanda’s wedding photos. By doing so, she was able to see not only Amanda’s husband but, subsequently, her two children.

Throughout Diep’s piece, she keeps coming back to her motivation for keeping track of Amanda — to know why Amanda did this to her when they were young teens. After finally agreeing to contact with Diep, Amanda expresses vague regret but she also claims amnesia of most her digital wrong-doings. Diep tries a variety of strategies to ferret out the why. Unsatisfactorily, the only thing Amanda owns up to is the opinion that whatever happened 13 years ago was just some sort of a “petty argument.”

I hope you’ll go to The Atlantic and read Diep’s story, as well as the comment string that follows. The comments, from both male and female, weigh in on what Amanda’s motives might have been and whether or not she has changed as an adult. I was surprised to see the number of males responding. I’m a male but the psychological aspects of this piece were intriguing so I figured I didn’t count. I, incorrectly, thought this story might just resonate with females who either were, or had run afoul of, an adolescent Queen Bee as teenagers.

Ironically, it doesn’t take long in the comment string for verbal bashing to occur, as one person cyber-smacks another because they disagree. I guess that gets to my point. If this were a group of people sitting around, face-to-face, talking about the story, I doubt they’d be slinging expletives and personal attacks quite so quickly. That’s what the Internet does. It allows for bad behavior at warp speed cloaked in anonymity. Even after reading Diep’s story, some of the presumed adults leaving the comments reverted back to behavior more reminiscent of junior high. I guess they did because they could.