By Anne Collier
Two things struck me about University of Hartford student Allison Pfeiffer’s cyberbullying story: First, there was the smart parting advice she left with the Today Show‘s viewers last week after being interviewed about the cruel fake profile two fellow students created about her in Facebook: “Don’t fight with the bully, fight for yourself.” The second thing is how intelligently she went about fighting for herself. She figured out who was behind the hate profile. According to the Bristol (Conn.) Press, “the specific action she took when she first learned about the hate site was to go to the fake Gmail account set up in her name and click “Forgot Password.” She easily guessed the answer to the security question Gmail posed, gained access to the e-mail and Facebook accounts, and changed the passwords and security questions. From there she used a free IP (Internet Protocol) address tracker [software] to track the network where the computer that used to create the fake site was located. The trail led her to [two students at] the [University of Connecticut] campus at Storrs. It took her seven hours from when she first found out about the fake site.” She told the Press that she’s no techie, but she didn’t need to be – it wasn’t hard – but the police were surprised, she told the Press, that she’d gotten that far.
Not every young person targeted as cruelly as Ally was would have the level of emotional strength she demonstrated or maybe the determination, but I suspect this kind of defensive investigative work as well as emotional resilience are going to become more commonplace, because the need for both resilience and ingenuity is growing (the New York Times reports that Facebook alone gets some 2 million abuse reports of various kinds each week) and the logic of necessity says we’re all going to be focusing on these more. What may remain unusual is the kind of law enforcement support Ally got, once she’d turned her evidence over to local police. Not all states have laws like Connecticut’s which were used to charge Ally’s harassers – “criminal impersonation, second-degree harassment, conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation and conspiracy to commit second-degree harassment, according to the Bristol Press – and it’s also not yet clear that criminal rather than civil charges should be applied to cyberbullying cases.