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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
She had friends.
She played soccer.
She was beautiful — slender, with gorgeous bright eyes.
Jessica Laney, a sophomore at Fivay High in Pasco County, also had an account on ask.fm, a social networking website where people can post anonymous questions and comments on a person’s profile. She canceled the account twice, at the urging of her friends. But curiosity to see what people would say drew her back.
After particularly cruel remarks about her were posted on the site, including repeated suggestions that she was fat and should die, Jessica committed suicide last month.
Though investigations have not turned up evidence directly linking Jessica’s death to the cyber-bullying, one question haunts: Why would someone subject herself to the torment of strangers?
In an attempt to understand what drives high school students to such sites, tb-two* asked that and other questions to high school students, some of whom have ask.fm accounts, and also a psychologist. Their comments are below.
— Reported by Liberty O’Neill, St. Petersburg High; and Gabrielle Calise and Amelia Goldstein, Palm Harbor University High.
Beenly Khoum, St. Petersburg High senior
Khoum says he regularly uses ask.fm and also has a formspring.me account. Both websites allow anyone to post comments and questions anonymously. The owner of the account must choose whether to post a submission, and how he wishes to answer it (or not).
“I feel kind of bad for people who do have these ask.fm pages yet no one is doing anything to prevent the bullying or make them feel better,” Khoum says. “At times when I did get rude or ignorant questions or comments, my friends would pull me to the side or IM (instant message): 'Are you okay with having this’ or 'Maybe you should delete your ask.fm.’
“Honestly, it is pretty sad to see how some of this stuff can really put a stress on people and tamper with their own personal lives. A common inquiry that I get is about my weight or what types of guys interest me. I love to joke about those or find any way to make myself laugh; my haters are my motivators.
“I’m always curious to know what others think, and I try to understand where people are coming from.
“I just think these types of websites are a joke in general, and shouldn’t be taken personally.”
Dr. Jeanne Howes, Clinical psychologist, Palm Harbor
Jessica Laney (the Fivay student who committed suicide) must have had a low opinion of herself, says Howes.
“Perspective is reality,” Howes says. Jessica (who was not a patient of Howes) had posed the question, “Am I Beautiful,” on her ask.fm page. Howes says the student’s perspective of herself was her reality, and “it was very sad, and not beautiful.”
“Ask.fm was a trigger,” Howes says. Jessica had already attempted suicide once, and the taunts may have been the last push.
Jordan Harcombe, Palm Harbor University High
Harcombe created an account for formspring two years ago during her freshman year. After witnessing the negativity from anonymous posters, Harcombe stopped using formspring, and did not make an ask.fm. Harcombe also programmed her Tumblr so that people cannot submit anonymous questions to her ask box.
“It makes people start rumors and it can ruin relationships. If people really care to ask something about you, they should do it in person.
“On formspring, someone called me ugly. It was sad.”
Gabi Prause, Palm Harbor UNIV. High freshman
She says she has refrained from using ask.fm because she feels it gives people the right to put down other people and ends up with kids feeling horrible about themselves, and even committing suicide.
“It’s really sad to hear what happens these days to teens. . . .
Stop the cycle of bullying by 1. Not bullying others; 2. Not putting yourself out there for more chances to be bullied by someone else, and 3. Take every word seriously, whether it comes out of your mouth or someone else’s.”
Alec Fox, St. Petersburg, High senior
Fox calls himself a cyber bully who takes the use of the websites lightly, for his own entertainment. He says he thinks other people should use them for entertainment, too, or not use them at all. He warns that people who have low self-esteem or create these accounts seeking attention should not use them, because there are many people like him who make jokes or ask strange questions because they think it’s funny.
“It’s stupid, and setting yourself up to be anonymously bullied,” Fox says. “I don’t usually post anything anonymously, but if I do it’s something strange that I wondered about them.
“I consider myself a cyber-bully by other people’s standards, but it’s pretty harmless and if you lose sleep over it, you should stop taking life so seriously.
“There’s nothing someone can say on the Internet that should make you inflict personal harm, let alone death.
“If you can’t handle people’s words, then get off the Internet, and return when you have some self esteem.”
Lois Jablonski, St. Petersburg High junior
Jablonski says she has never created an account for ask.fm or formspring; she doesn’t believe in sharing such personal information with anonymous people over the Internet. Jablonski says sites like these are a source of distraction for students, and that they’re popular because people use them as a cure for boredom.
“I think (students) partake in those sites for mere entertainment, just like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. It’s something to kill time,” Jablonski says.
“I have chosen not to use either, because if I want people to ask me any questions, especially about my personal life, I’d rather the questions be asked face to face than out on the Internet for everyone to see.
“It generally starts a lot of unnecessary drama for some, while for others, it’s just a way to find out more about someone.
“I do not think any less of (anyone) for using those sites.”
Ryan Cocks, Palm Harbor University High sophomore
He has never used ask.fm but has heard others talk about it on Facebook; he also uses Tumblr.
Bullying on social media is escalating, he says.
“Sites like ask.fm are not helping.”