By Anne Collier
A cyberbullying conviction in a US district court in Philadelphia starkly illustrates some important things. You might consider sharing this story at NJ.com with your kids and students. This was a particularly malicious act of cyberbullying, US District Judge Anita Brody said, so a lot of kids would probably say they’d never do such a thing and don’t know anyone who would. But what they very well could experience and need to be alert to is the conditions described by the bully in this case, 20-year-old Matthew Bean, in a court-ordered psychiatric exam before he was convicted and sentenced to 45 days in federal prison for distributing nude photos of another high school student in 2009: “The Internet seemed safer to me, not as dangerous as handing out the photo at someone’s school where you might get punched. We weren’t thinking. We were reacting, the beehive mind. Like a riot, people were just joining in and going with the flow,” Bean said, according to court documents cited in the NJ.com story (which also shows that the bully himself was a troubled teen, that this is a disturbing story all around).
Another important take-away: “the stupidity of sexting,” as Judge Brody put it. The victim, who did not have to appear in court and “staved off the humiliation and is now in college,” the report says, “had posted the sexually explicit photos of himself when he was 12 or 13. They surfaced five years later on a dubious website that had caught Bean’s interest, the FBI said. Members of the site worked to identify the naked teen. Bean admitted he then forwarded the photos to teachers and administrators at the teen’s Philadelphia-area school in January 2009, posing as a [concerned] school parent.” So … Students, know how incredibly risky sexting is; think for yourself, don’t be manipulated by group think; support friends who are targeted by social aggressors, and if at all possible stand up for them. Parents and educators, don’t reflexively jump to conclusions about what you see in emails, Web sites, digital images, text messages, etc. – try calmly to get to the bottom of what’s presented digitally with input from varied perspectives, including the young people involved, knowing that it’s likely to be based entirely in real-world relationships and peer groups.