Cyberbullying Receives Inadequate Response

Joelle Nelson, Co-Editor in Chief

A recent campus scandal involving the use of an Instagram account to publish inappropriate memes targeting students and staff has raised the question, “is administrative response to such behavior appropriate?”

The recent incident was classified under the Acalanes School District policy as cyberbullying, yet the offending students weren’t suspended for longer than the duration of a school week.

The district should have provided a more effective consequence.

These were malicious attacks, not jokes.  The content of the account expressed racism, homophobia, and sexism.  It caused severe emotional damage. It cannot be excused as free speech.

Students who pass off malicious statements as edgy humor perpetuate the kind of misguided entitlement for which Moraga youth are unfortunately known.  And the absence of meaningful disciplinary action in response to it only underscores how such a lack of empathy has come to be normalized among teens in the community.

While suspensions were handed out and class scheduled changed for the perpetrators, little was offered to the victims other than being called into the office, as one source told me, and parents being called to inform them of the incident.

According to CyberBullyHotline, 20% of teens that have been bullied online think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempts it.  A simple suspension is certainly not adequate restitution for the trauma inflicted by such insensitivity.

There are some who try to brush aside or even deny that such bullying occurs, including victims. One targeted student with whom I spoke vehemently refused any desire to talk about the incident, and actually claimed not to have been a victim of cyberbullying. Yet such denials, which may ultimately be a kind of repression or pain, cannot justify the actions of those who prey upon their peers online.

Sadly, 81% of students think cyberbullying is easier to get away with than in-person bullying, according to CyberBullyHotline.  Considering the less-than-stiff punishment administered to the perpetrators of the recent Instagram incident, this commonly held belief may be accurate.

Suspension time should be increased for such behavior, and restitution should also include public apologies and other restorative measures like community service and participation in counseling programs.

Consider the fact that Harvard recently rescinded 10 freshman applications when it was found that those applicants participated in a similar online account, according to The Harvard Crimson.  

Not only did those should-have-been freshmen have to confront the reality of having a college acceptance rescinded, it also sent a message to the rest of the school’s students, and the country for that matter, that bullying in any form will not be tolerated.  Campolindo would be well served if its administration responded to cyberbullying with similarly severe consequences.

At a time when more students than ever have cell phones and social media accounts, Campolindo and its community needs an administration that is willing to truly stand up for those who are victimized. To thwart the cavalier attitudes that precipitated this recent attack, there needs to be a more effective response. Bullies must truly be held accountable for their actions.