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I just deleted all my social networking accounts

November 19th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

I’m getting really tired of the various campaigns that shame and blame young women into not posting pictures of themselves on social networking sites. While I agree that it’s probably not the best idea to post a pic of yourself in your panties on Myspace, campaigns like “Think Before You Post” reek of “she was asking for it” logic. Protecting yourself and your privacy is a logical thing to do and I’m not against setting up guidelines, but why does it seem that all of these PSAs and print ads focus on how young women are victims who put themselves in danger simply by uploading a pretty photograph? A variation on the “maybe you shouldn’t have gotten drunk” theme if you ask me.

Recently a thirteen-year old girl hanged herself after being harrassed on Myspace. The girl, who prior to befriending 16-year-old “Josh” online was considered awkward, overweight and depressed, had been coerced into a hoax friendship with a fake boy designed only to hurt and embarrass her:

“Megan had a lifelong struggle with weight and self-esteem,” (Megan’s mother) says. “And now she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty.”

After “Josh” had spent some time getting to know Megan and called her “pretty,” he suddenly started posting bulletins about her being fat and a slut. Of course “Josh” wasn’t real, his profile manufactured by people who disliked Megan. Megan’s father recalls reading the final post from “Josh” after he had discovered his daughter had committed suicide:

“Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”

I suppose you’re thinking “Kids can be so cruel” at this point? That this is a cautionary tale that validates the necessity for women to be wary of predators online? Not exactly. The people who coerced Megan into the “Josh” hoax and proceeded to demoralize and harrass her online were adults, parents of a girl who lived down the street, a girl Megan had had a falling out with: According to (Megan’s Mother,) Megan had gone on vacations with this family. They knew how she struggled with depression, that she took medication.

“I know that they did not physically come up to our house and tie a belt around her neck,” Tina says. “But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old - with or without mental problems - it is absolutely vile.”

Megan’s parents monitored all of Megan’s online activity and were the ones who permitted Megan to befriend “Josh” when he requested an add. They had Megan’s password with her knowledge, knew all about her exchanges with “Josh” on Myspace and were actually pleased to see their daughter happy and healthy as a result of his attention.

The adults who orchestrated the hoax and harrassed a girl to the point of suicide face no charges. Instead, Megan’s father faces a misdemeanor charge of property damage for driving his truck over the lawn of the family that did this to his daughter.

This story highlights how we need to take a closer look at who we blame for online harrassment and bullying. As it stands now, the responsibility seems to lie with young women not to “victimize themselves” or make themselves vulnerable, but Megan’s case seems to prove that even the most vigilant privacy measures and parental monitoring cannot deter cruelty. The solution? The Meiers do not plan to file a civil lawsuit. Here’s what they want: They want the law changed, state or federal, so that what happened to Megan - at the hands of an adult - is a crime.

Tags: in my opinion..., media savvy

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