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Cyberbully is a 2011 film directed by Charles Binamé and starring Emily Osment, Kay Panabaker, and Kelly Rowan. The lead character Taylor Hillridge is a high school student who creates a profile on a popular social network and becomes the victim of cyberbullying.
Towards the end of the film, Taylor finds out that the profile of a boy who accused her of giving him an STD was created by her best friend, Samantha. It is evident that the film was produced in an attempt to address the widespread problem of cyberbullying. In order to do that, Cyberbully portrays the issues that are associated with the growing popularity of social media and suggests some ways of resolving them.
The first problem associated with the use of social media that is exemplified in the film is the lack of privacy. In the opening scene of the movie, when Taylor is chatting online with her friends, Kris warns her about the lack of online privacy: “What you do online isn’t exactly private” (Cyberbully). The quote highlights the concerns about sharing personal information on social media. People often perceive social media platforms as a way of communicating with friends, and they often forget the public nature of these websites. Later in the film, when Taylor starts chatting with James online, she tells him a lot of personal information.
Once she realizes that James is a fake profile, she worries that this information can be leaked online and used against her. A similar situation happened to Caleb, who is another victim of cyberbullying at Taylor’s high school.
In a meeting with the support group, he tells about sharing personal information with a guy he liked: “I told him personal stuff, and he sent it to a bunch of people at school” (Cyberbully). Caleb’s words and his situation are thus used to exemplify the consequences of social media with regards to information security. The film uses Taylor’s and Caleb’s storylines to show that poor information security online mean that critical information can be leaked and used against people in real life.
Fear of Missing out
The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a psychological phenomenon that is associated with social media use. According to Dossey, FOMO is “a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, or some other satisfying event, often aroused by posts seen on social media sites” (Dossey 69). Thus, FOMO is an important driver of social media use, and thus it is associated with other negative consequences of social media.
In Cyberbully, FOMO causes Taylor to opt for social media instead of spending time with her friends in real life. When she befriends Scott on Cliquester, she begins skipping regular activities with Samantha and Cheyenne, such as going to the mall on Fridays: “I wanna go home, see if Scott goes online” (Cyberbully). Even though she can see Scott and talk to him in real life, she is afraid of missing the opportunity to talk to him online, which is a typical example of FOMO.
Moreover, the film also portrays the link between FOMO and compulsive online behaviors. Taylor’s use of social media becomes obsessive, as she spends most of her free time on her laptop. Even after her suicide attempt, she wants to monitor what other people say about her online. She tells her brother, Eric, “Go get the laptop I have to see what they’re saying about me” (Cyberbully). This quote shows that FOMO causes people to use social media even after the damaging effects of it are evident, thus leading to adverse psychological consequences.
The film shows that as a result of poor information security and the fear of missing out, social media becomes an ideal place for bullying. Social networks allow bullies to leave negative comments online without facing any consequences. In Cyberbully, Lindsay and other students harass Taylor online by calling her names and discussing her personal life. After Eric hacks into Taylor’s account and changes her status, she sees comments such as “Taylor Slutridge”, “Ew, who’d want to touch your ugly ass?”, and “That’s what skunks smell like” (Cyberbully).
This shows that people feel more comfortable with bullying someone online because they have a sense of security and anonymity on social media. These factors also cause people who are not bullies in real life to engage in cyberbullying, thus fuelling the system. In reflecting on her actions, Samantha says “When you do it online, you don’t even realize that you’re doing it” (Cyberbully). This quotation supports the idea that the nature of social media platforms and their popularity prompt people to engage in offensive actions towards others.
In addition, the film shows that the system of cyberbullying relies not only on bullies but also on bystanders. When talking about Cliquester, Scott says “people talk trash, it’s kinda funny”. Scott’s attitude towards cyberbullying highlights the issue of not taking the problem seriously. People who are not affected by it often fail to report cyberbullying due to not understanding the possible consequences.
Taylor’s depression and suicide attempt are among the common effects of cyberbullying. Pappas (2015), exposure to cyberbullying can lead to depression, anxiety, and self-harm in teenagers, and the severity of these consequences is associated with the degree of victimization. Thus, the film accurately portrays the adverse effects of cyberbullying, serving as a warning for people who use social media heavily.
The film also portrays some of the strategies that can be used to combat cyberbullying and protect the victims. First, it underlines the importance of legislation in protecting against cyberbullying. When Kris attempts to call out Lindsay and others on cyberbullying, she is told that it is not illegal, and thus there is nothing that she can do. Secondly, the leader of Taylor’s support group states that it is essential to spread awareness about prevention tactics.
Blocking those leaving negative comments, complaining to internet service providers, and printing evidence of online harassment are some of the methods useful against cyberbullies. Finally, Cyberbully shows the importance of real-life relationships to reducing the negative impact of cyberbullying. Taylor’s family and the support group help her to overcome depression and become more confident. Towards the end of the film, Taylor says to her mother, “I don’t know why I didn’t tell you… I should have told you” (Cyberbully). These words emphasize the significance of telling family and friends about cyberbullying in order to receive their support and overcome the consequences of victimization.
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All in all, Cyberbully portrays major problems with regards to social media use, including the lack of privacy, the fear of missing out, and cyberbullying. Taylor’s story reflects the experience of many teenagers who use social media and become victims of cyberbullying. The behavior of other characters, such as Scott and Samantha, shows that cyberbullying is not an action of one person but a system where both bullies and bystanders facilitate victimization. Hence, the film makes a great contribution to the debate about social media and cyberbullying by offering a multifaceted examination of the issue.
Cyberbully. Directed by Charles Binamé, performances by Emily Osment, Kay Panabaker, and Kelly Rowan, Muse Entertainment Enterprises, 2011.
Dossey, Larry. “FOMO, Digital Dementia, and our Dangerous Experiment.” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, vol. 10, no. 2, 2014, pp. 69-73.
Pappas, Stephanie. “Cyberbullying on Social Media Linked to Teen Depression.” Livescience, 2015. Web.