Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Cyberbully" examines how a high school girl gets harassed online when she joins a social networking site

Teenagers live in a world (much less driven by money, at least directly) that mirrors the adult environment, but is confined.  There is a tendency for most people to assume that the most important asset they have is social connections and a certain amount of power in their social world.  That’s particularly true of people who don’t have individual accomplishments to list – which, after all, would be meaningless without a social context anyway.  Is it any surprise that in the teenage world, this can turn into bullying?

Since teens see social combat as tantamount to survival and purpose, it’s no surprising that it carries over into the Internet, especially among girls.  So one can predict the course of the 2011 ABC Family film “Cyberbully”, purporting to be set in a Seattle high school but actually filmed in Montreal.  The director, Charles Birname, is DGC.

Taylor Hildridge (Emily Osment) gets a laptop from her mother for her birthday, and she immediately joins a social network.  It isn’t Facebook – because people are allowed anonymity. And there is a lot of emphasis on chat, instead of the familiar Timeline, Walls, and affinity groups.  (It really sounds more like Myspace a few years ago, or even the chat sites common ten years ago.)  She starts getting reckless, and her brother guesses her password and embarrasses her. Her mother tries to force her offline; that doesn’t happen (but for three days), and pretty soon another girl is spreading horrible rumors by pretending to be a guy claiming to have gotten an STD from her – when the guy doesn’t exist.  Things get out of control and could turn tragic.

The film males a good point on how it is difficult for schools to do much about what students do online outside of class.  It also makes the point that existing laws could do little about cyber harassment, but at the end of the film there is mention of a proposal for state law to criminalize harassment of minors online (I’m not sure how this fits into the world of other laws involving minors like COPA, some of whuch have been declared unconstitutional). 

The official site is here

There is a small subplot involving a handsome and rather imposing (physically) gay teen character Caleb (Jade Hassoune).

I do think that public schools should show this film to high school kids.

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